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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Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made me sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was only partially right.

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

I still believed in coexistence, until that day.

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

She was surrounded by a group of people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are Cleaner Squad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you still need us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just how imperfect we really are.

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…..

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.

Kanada Day

She asks me to walk with her, although I know I don’t have too much time. Even the TTC, in this world, has something of a schedule to keep. But I can’t refuse her. I never could.

“We should take the streetcar when we get to it.” I tell her as we walk out of the Huron Garden behind the Lillian H. Smith Library with its memories of red berries, green and tea. “I imagine you have important things to do.”

“On a day like this?” She shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to put my bike on a bumper. And right now, the only important thing is to enjoy this July weather people keep complaining about. Wouldn’t you say?”

She’s right of course. As we begin walking down College and Spadina, the summery day somehow seems to make everything newer and clean. Even in the sun, her weathered face is as round and cratered as a silvery moon: motherly, worn, and wise.

“Come on.” She says, her voice still sibilant and deliberate despite being an octave lower. “I want to have a look at the Library again before my next book launch.”

There is a quiet eagerness to her steps as she guides the bicycle beside her with both hands. We come to the front of the Lillian H. Smith Library. Even now, I can’t help but marvel at the arch framing the doorway and the elaborate statues of the winged lion and griffin on either side with their entourage of carved animal friends. It reminds me of the guardians set around Morpheus’ Palace of Dreams: minus the Dragon and the Unicorn.

She stares up at the statues as well. As she smiles, the jowls of her cheeks turn into fine lines and her faded blue eyes light up into slivers of sky.

“Mac couldn’t have done better: him or Ruben.” She says. “It’s come a long way from the Spaced Out Library, you know. I haven’t been here in a long time,” she puts a weathered hand on the griffin’s side.

“Neither have I.” I admit and I wonder why given that this is the closest Toronto Public Library I’ve ever felt to home.

“I used to work at Girls & Boys House.” She says. “I was a page there.”

“I know.” I tell her.

She turns and pats me on the shoulder. “Of course you do. Come on. I want to go through the Market for a while.”

Again, I feel a slight nudging of time but she is persuasive. We turn around and walk towards Kensington. We pass many women in summer dresses and Homburg hats, men in vintage suits and T-shirts and children playing with music and somehow I feel happier watching them. I notice a few of them carrying Canadian flags as well, but I don’t pay it too much notice.

“They turned Boys & Girls into a U of T Security building if you can believe it.” She grumbles. “A security building of all things!”

I shake my head. “At least there’s the Merrill Library.”

“The Lillian H. one.” She corrects me. “As much as Judy would have liked that, she’d have corrected you sooner.” She sighs. “Poor Judy. She’d have gotten a real hoot out of what this place has become. I’m so glad we’re having the reception upstairs.”

By the time we get to one of the Kensington Market intersections, the sky is beginning to turn orange in the late afternoon sun. I also begin to see more Canadian flags: some of them set near stalls and others carried out by vendors. They are even there as labels on people’s shirts. Then I remember what day it is.

That is when I hear the crescendo of Bif Naked’s “Spaceman” and notice that my companion is no longer at my side. I find myself wandering around looking for her. I know I should start making my way back now, but I can’t. I just ran into her by coincidence after getting off the car from Lower Queen and getting very quickly lost … no, found in a once and a lifetime opportunity series of conversations with her. But having said so much and yet so little considering, I can’t leave it at this now.

I wonder why no one has reacted to her yet — this Poet Laureate of Toronto — but then I think about it again. Even here, in this place where she is honoured, many of them probably just see a little old lady in a red and Phoenician-purple looking tunic that could just as easily be woven with Greek and aboriginal patterns.

I find her in front of the astronaut. She — the astronaut — has loudspeakers behind her that is the source of the Bif Naked song. The astronaut is a pale woman with straight long black hair. Her white bulky suit has a Canadian tag on its chest. My friend — and yes I consider her my friend at this point — drops a Toonie into the other woman’s gloved hand.

“So cool.” I hear my friend say before she walks past me to a nearby booth to buy an orange from a lithe dark-skinned woman with multi-coloured dreadlocks.

“I had a photo taken of me in a space-suit once.” She pays for the orange. “It was supposed to be the cover for my latest book of poems, but because it was the seventies my publishers wouldn’t let me use it. Now you have all these famous singers and female astronauts making fashion statements alike. Just look at how far we’ve come.” She pauses. “Still, let it be said that I did it before it was cool,” she ends off with a wink in my direction.

I laugh and look back at the street. “You know, Kensington Market reminds me of the Carnival scene in Issue #22 of Miracleman.” I offer, caught by the myriad of different people buying and celebrating in the streets.

She nods beside me. “And it’s Marvelman. It’s the Marvel Family. A happy family of superheroes. None of that litigation bullshit.”

I’m laughing again. “No. The only thing missing are the balloons.”

Then we see a booth with balloons. We exchange a look. She’s the one that breaks the tableaux. “Well, let’s see if these ones will let us float into the sky.”

And so we get some balloons. We don’t fly, but we might as well have. Our conversation about comic books continues.

“I think Neil was the best thing that happened to Marvelman.” She says as we walk–her with a green balloon and me with a red one. “I love the mythopoeic, the changes that legends go through. Neil keeps an essential humanity throughout all of his works.”

I feel a lightness in my chest — a giddiness — as I hear her talk about Neil Gaiman. “And not Alan Moore?”

She turns to me and frowns a bit, the wattles of her neck forming a cavern underneath the worn Anglo-Sphinx of her face. “Don’t get me wrong.” She tells me. “Alan Moore is brilliant, as brilliance goes, but I’m not sure I like the direction he took my Marvel Family. It was too dark. Too …” she shakes her head. “Too eighties.”

As she grins again, I feel my mouth matching her expression. “You know, I was born in the eighties.”

“Yes, but I lived through them …” She stops walking and stands there. People continue to move past us, but she remains still. Her blue eyes blink a few times and her face begins to resemble an older version of the gaunt and haunted expressions I’ve seen captured in photograph.

“The city became so cold and impersonal.” She says faintly. I look at the distance in her gaze and I can’t quite find it in myself to meet her eyes.

“My drinking got worse. I wasn’t writing and I kept making myself sick. That time, in ’87 I almost died …”

This time, I can’t even look in her direction. She’s quiet for a few more moments, as though considering something. “The irony was if Frank — my drunkard buddy Frank — hadn’t come into my apartment when he did, I would’ve been dead. There’d be no walks on Kensington. No lectures at Western, York, or U of T. No coffee with Peggy. No new cats. No new books. No life. Nothing.”

“I’m glad you survived.” I whisper, still not meeting her gaze and trying not to think about the alternative right now.

She shakes her head at me sadly. “That time in the Animal Rights Movement probably helped. I honestly didn’t think I had anymore to give, you know? And then, when I went back to that infernal Black Tunnel Wall,” as she keeps talking I wonder if — in this world — she’s told anyone about this in an interview or anywhere else millions of times before, “looking at my mother’s experiences during the Blitz … you know, they compared the thing to Plath’s Bell Jar, though I never really got that comparison. Looking back though, it’s like I passed through that tunnel and … I’m so glad I did.”

She smiles at me again. “You’re right. It wasn’t a bad time. I got to see Toronto get beautiful again: with all those clubs and Goth Nights coming up with their lithe, pale, made-up young boys and girls in black and kohl. Really cool stuff: made me almost want to be sixteen again. And my friends were there and I got a whole ton of honourary doctorates …”

“Professor –”

“No. Don’t call me that. Professor or Doctor is for someone who graduated high school. Miss is for someone more authoritarian than I ever was. You can call me by name.”

I almost do. Instead, she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. It’s just Alan Moore reminds me of the rest of the eighties and I know that’s not fair. We all have to work with darkness and re-imagining those Jungian archetypes. Look at George Lucas’ Star Wars.”

“And then the Prequel Trilogy.” I mutter.

“Please,” she holds the palm of her hand out to my face, “let’s not. It almost makes me wish I hadn’t survived the eighties.”

I shake my head, case in point. “There was no comparison. I think Neil had the more difficult job though,” I tell her as we make our way towards the College and Spadina streetcar line, “I mean, where do you go from utopia?”

The sky is more pink than orange by the time we get to the tracks.

“All utopias are problematic. As long as human nature exists, as long as that yearning is there, as long as we tell stories nothing ever really stops. There is always something after ‘Happily ever after.’ It never ends. It is never over.”

With that remark, she stops to ease herself onto her bike seat. And then I know.

“But this is.” I state, feeling myself deflate inside.

She takes her helmet and begins to put it on over her silver hair. “You knew that already.”

There is so much I want to ask her still, so much I want to say but all I can actually say is, “Please …”

She shakes her head at me. “You know, when I stare off like this, I can see why Louis Dudek once called me ‘Crazy Cassandra,’” she says, fondly.

“You’re more of a Tiresias than a Cassandra.” I whisper helplessly as I try to ignore the tears welling up in my eyes.

“No. You’re wrong, my friend. I’m no more the shade of Tiresias than you are Odysseus feeding me blood at the Nekromanteion of Ephyra, though your heart is in the right place.”

There is a light in her eyes. They are somehow an even stronger blue than ever in the pink light of an early Toronto evening. Their dreamy expression stares right into me. I feel ashamed.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“I understand.” She says not unkindly. “You’re trying to do for me what I attempted to do for Lawrence. And I thank you for that. But I am not your Other. I am not your Cloud-Gwen.”

I hang my head because deep down I know she’s right. Then I feel a gentle hand cupping my face and turning me to look up at her again. As she sits up on her bicycle, her white hair sticks out of her helmet is a pastel of different colours in the sunset.

Mishugina,” she murmurs softly, her smile wry and gentle. “All of this is an elementary world. A mythical world. You should be proud.”

She leans forward and we hug. I wonder if anyone else can see us: and what it exactly is they are seeing. Is it an embrace between friends, a grandson and grandmother, or something more wishing the other farewell, and never goodbye?

The next thing I know, we’ve let go of each other. She is looking up and around us. “It’s funny,” she says, “today is Kanada Day and this country still doesn’t know what it is.”

“Maybe not.” I try to keep myself from choking up. “But neither does Toronto.”

She laughs. “It never did.”

I shake my head this time. “But I can definitely tell you that you helped it dream up some of its coat of many different colours.”

She smiles and in the waning sun, her face seems ageless and Egyptian again. “Dream well, my friend.”

She turns around and begins to peddle away.

Suddenly, I find myself running after her. I’m shouting, calling after her, “Tell me, Gwen! Did Julian the Magician know how to resurrect the dead? Did he know how to resurrect the dead!? Or was he supposed to bring back the living? Or himself? Tell me, Gwen! Please tell me!”

But by the time I ask these questions, she is already gone. I stop running. Soon, a far-too-clean and far-too-efficient TTC streetcar visits the too-clean street and rail shelter. As it comes to a stop in front of me, I know I have to go now. I helped make this place, but it isn’t mine anymore.

I came here through Lower Queen, the Gate of Ivory that could have been, and now I leave back through Lower Bay, the Gate of Horn that actually happened: back to a colder place, a more cordial place, a place of slow public transport and garbage, an asymmetrical place, a city that doesn’t make sense, a city with dark memories that never really took root.

It is a place without her.

But she did exist here, and so did I. So do I. Because today is Kanada Day. Today is a day of potlucks and shadows; magic shows and superheroes; Greeks and Egyptian exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum; and all the people on the streets who are no-man.

Yet more than that, she showed me the secret. Because I know now, even riding this streetcar, that whatever this place and this city is, it is ultimately a land that turns you inward.

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 …

The Greatest Mystery of All

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. This is the sequel to Opposite of a DogWarning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

Even now, you are not entirely sure why you did it. After you welcomed the human and the others inside of you, you’ve seen all the alternate realities. Sometimes you died. Other times you made friends with the human and they left. In a few more timelines you got to even fight the sun with them. But now you know that these different places and times are all the same: in you.

They remind you of the tangled three-dimensional model pasta experiment that once stuck inside your rib cage.

“eh.” your brother says as he reaches towards the human’s floating Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”

Your gloved hand closes over the red heart first. “LAZY BONES. YOU’LL FIND  THAT, WITH PRACTICE, MY DEAR BROTHER,  YOUR CAPACITY TO CARE WILL ONLY INCREASE TEN-FOLD.” 

Sans’ eye-sockets widen. “pap … what are you … no …”

“NYEH HEH HEHHH …” You tell Sans and the Soul of the Human in your hands. “DON’T WORRY. I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHALL SAVE THE DAY.”

Papyrus Enthusiastic

Poor Sans is distressed. The human has come back and fallen down. They wanted Sans to help them, but you know better. Sans has, dare you think it to yourself, worked himself to the bone … (wowie, puns still make you wince even after everything) so far. It is a good thing you got sick of him missing a spaghetti dinner again and couldn’t find him at Grillby’s. It’s also fortunate that you can smell the scent of his magic and that he wasn’t far away from Lesser Dog’s old sentry point: a place you’ve made a point of still patrolling just in case any new humans came through … or the old one, your friend and former date, returned.

The Soul in your hands quivers, as though trying to get away from you. But you understand. This is a scary mission from what you’ve heard: one to save the timelines and Monsterkind. To save the human. But you can do it. 

*You shouldn’t have done it, Papyrus.

It’s your friend’s voice. Even as you sail through the rainbow-coloured wave of infinity to your next destination (you are in no hurry, as you really don’t feel like rushing infinity: it will do its job anyway), they still sound old and sad.

You’ve tried. One of the first things you did when you rescued their Soul was take the two of you, or yourself, for a Nice Cream: just to cheer you up.

“NONSENSE, HUMAN.” You tell them cheerfully. “I COULDN’T ABANDON MY BROTHER AND MY FRIEND IN NEED. YOU KNOW THAT. I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD.”

*Papyrus … you took an awful risk. After everything I did … I didn’t want …

“bro.” Sans’ eye is actually glowing blue now. “don’t … don’t do this …”

“NO SANS. YOU AND THE HUMAN SHOULD’VE INVITED ME TO THIS SECRET SAVE THE WORLD MEETING. ESPECIALLY SINCE THE HUMAN’S FALLEN DOWN. I CAN HELP YOU. I’M GOING TO HELP YOU.”

“no …” Sans reaches for you. In retrospect you wonder why he didn’t just use his pranking abilities in space and time to just take the human’s Soul from you, but really, he was probably too shocked by your daring and deductive reasoning to even think about doing something so cheap and unfair. 

“AND THEY’RE COLD.” You say, feeling the Soul shivering violently in your hands, as though trying to get away from you. “DON’T WORRY, HUMAN.” You say as tenderly as you can. “YOU WILL BE WARM IN MY RIB CAGE UNTIL WE GET THIS ALL SORTED OUT.”

“PAPYRUS! NO …”

But it’s too late. You eased the trembling heart between your ribs. You recall hoping that it doesn’t fall out of them like all of your pasta. 

Undertale Heart

That is when it happens. You’ve never really felt the cold before, what with being a skeleton and all. But suddenly … you can feel it. At the same time you feel a raging warmth inside of your rib cage that makes you aware of the cold, but utterly immune to it. Something is beating, not unpleasantly, in your skull. Sans is in front of you still, but you can now see an afterimage. It’s white and shining. You blink and memories and thoughts that aren’t your own, and are, fill the deep cavern of your brain. 

Textures, colours, sounds, and sensations fill your bones. You recall something spoken not too long ago.

“WOWIE, HUMAN.” You tell them, drawing on the vast reservoir of culinary knowledge now at your disposal. “WE REALLY DON’T TASTE LIKE KETCHUP.” 

*Papyrus. Please. It’s not too late. Just put me down … and give me to Sans.

Sans is looking at you, at the two of you, in shock. “kid …” He looks at you and the human’s body on the ground. You realize, belatedly, that the human just spoke through your mouth. That’s ok. It’s only fair since you are roomies now. “pap. listen to the human. you … you don’t know what this power will do to you. i … i can take it from here.”

He is afraid. And you realize he is afraid for you. 

“SANS …” you say, and your voice sounds simultaneously large and quiet. “DO YOU … KNOW WHAT THIS FEELS LIKE?”

“pap … c’mon, bro.” Sans is pleading now, tears coming out of his eye-sockets. 

You go up to him and lean down. You put a hand on his face and wipe the tears away. “I CAN … FEEL YOUR TEARS, BROTHER. FEAR, HORROR, SORROW, REGRET, EXHAUSTION, DARKNESS, AND LIGHT … HUMAN?” You ask the presence, feeling awe, now inside of you, “IS THIS WHAT YOU FEEL ALL THE TIME? IS THIS WHAT YOU SEE?”

There is a pause. *Papyrus, this is what we … both see. I’ve never done this before, not in this timeline but I can see so many others now … No, Papyrus. Let me go. Please. I can’t do this to you. Not you. Of all people, not you. 

You realize it now. “YOU DON’T THINK I CAN HELP YOU.”

“bro, it’s not like that. this is … too dangerous.”

“NO.” You look at Sans and the human’s body on the ground and you understand. “YOU’VE BEEN PROTECTING ME. BOTH OF YOU. BUT, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?” You grin at them. “I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS! IT IS MY JOB, MY DUTY AS A PROSPECTIVE MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GUARD TO FIND A HUMAN AND TO SAVE ALL OF MONSTERKIND! I FOUND YOU HUMAN. AND AS PART OF MONSTERKIND I NEED TO PROTECT YOU, SANS!”

“… bro.” Sans is openly weeping now. “please. i can’t lose you. not again. not like this.”

There are many rifts in the rainbow coloured expanse that you ride: opening to more strands of reality than there are strings of angel-hair pasta. You now understand that this is similar to how Sans would take his short-cuts, the lazy bones. It’s also close to how he was able to view different timelines.

But you also understand, with some sadness, just what he has been going through. There is a difference though.

“HUMAN,” you tell them, “HEROISM IS A RISKY BUSINESS. BUT WE HAVE SAVES AND LOADS. IT REALLY SAVED MY BATTLE BODY THE LAST TIME.”

*Papyrus, you really shouldn’t have put your costume in a washer with our Soul power. 

‘NYEH HEH HEHEHHH!” You pat the human, or really just yourself on the back. “BUT LOOK AT HOW IT TURNED OUT THE SEVENTIETH TIME. THE HUMANS IN THAT PARADE ON THE SURFACE REALLY LIKED HOW IT TURNED OUT.”

The human sighs. *We agreed to use that power to just make your scarf … match your eyes. Even the others thought the … The human sighs again. *The Rainbow Shell Battle Body was a little too … derivative. 

“BUT WE NEED TO ANNOUNCE OUR INTENTIONS LOUDLY. THAT IS WHAT A TRUE HERO SHOULD DO. BESIDES, WE CAN ALWAYS RESET –”

*Papyrus …

“YES YES I KNOW.” You shake your head. “LOADS AND SAVES ARE FINE. RESETTING IS BAD. TRUE RESETTING IS EVEN WORSE.” You sigh, suddenly a little melancholy. “IF MY BROTHER COULD ONLY SEE THIS, HUMAN. I MEAN, HE CAN. BUT I KNOW JUST HOW MUCH HE LOOKED FOR THIS POWER. IT’S AS EASY AS JUMPING THROUGH UNDYNE’S GLASS PLATE WINDOW TO USE THE WASHROOM. IT COULD HAVE SAVED HIM SO MUCH PAIN …”

*Trust me, Papyrus. It would have only caused him more, in the long run …

“OH LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE, HUMAN. YOU’RE CAUSING ANOTHER NARRATIVE FLASHBACK –”

“IF THIS POWER IS SO DANGEROUS, AS YOU SAY BROTHER.” You confront Sans, with your hands on your hips just so he knows you mean business now. “THEN WHY IS IT OK FOR YOU TO HAVE IT? AND YOU TOO HUMAN, WHY IS IT OK FOR SANS TO HAVE IT?”

They tell him that Sans has had experience with Resets and other Timelines. They tell you that you have a different duty and destiny. But you know that, what they’re really saying, what even Undyne had been thinking with all of your private training, is that they see you as just too … innocent. 

But this is the point where you need to tell them what is what. 

“SANS. YOU HAVE 1 HP.”

“pap …”

“1 HP. 1 DEFENSE. 1 ATTACK. SANS, HUMAN, I CAN SEE THE TIMELINES A LITTLE MORE NOW. UNDYNE HAD DETERMINATION. ALL THOSE OTHERS. THEY MELTED. AND YOU HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN TRAINING. REALLY, IT SHOULD BE HIS MAJESTY AND MAYBE HIS … CLONE? HUH, THAT’S NEW. AS BOSS MONSTERS THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO HANDLE THIS. BUT I CAN’T RISK THE ROYAL FAMILY, OR YOU.”

“pap. listen to me.  t h i s  i s  n o t  a  g a m e.” 

“D O N  ‘  T   Y O U   T H I N K   I   K N OW  T H A T ?” 

“stop it bro.”

“NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR PUNS.”

For the first time this entire evening, Sans actually smiles a bit. You smile too. 

“THERE. THAT’S THE FIRST REAL SMILE I’VE SEEN YOU HAVE IN A WHILE BROTHER.”

“pap … even with all that power. you’re still the same skele-ton of a brother.”

“SANS!” You scream at his bad pun and a nearby mountain threatens to explode from the power you just unwittingly unleashed. “OH. OH I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN ABOUT THE POWER.” You put your hands on his shoulders. “BROTHER, I SEE NOW HOW YOU’VE PROTECTED ME. BUT JUST FOR ONCE, JUST IN THIS RUN, LET ME BE THE ONE TO TAKE CARE OF YOU.”

“bro …” The two of you hug. Even without the power of the Soul, you know that you’ve won this argument. The only other issue now will be to talk to the human, and then His Majesty. But one thing bothers you. 

“SANS. AM I … REALLY THE SAME NOW?”

“well …” Sans looks away from you.

“SANS!”

“all right all right already.” He stares you with an expressionless look on his face. “pap.” He reaches up to put his hands on both sides of your ribs. “your eyes.”

“YES BROTHER?”

“they look … like alphys’ rainbow brite …”

You feel a powerful sensation course through your chest. It doesn’t take you long to realize it is complete and total joy. ‘THAT’S SO … BEAUTIFUL.”

“it’s a nice look on you, bro.” Sans looks at your chest. “hey, kid. i know you’re in there. please … take care of the big lug here for me. stay Determined, for him.” You don’t miss his eye-sockets turning dark. “or else.” 

“SANS THERE IS NO NEED FOR …”

*I understand Sans. I-I’m so sorry …

“forget about it.” Sans waves it off, the lights back in his eyes. “you believe in me, kid. and i believe in my bro. time i put my money where my mouth is, stuff it in my ribs, and let him be a hero.” He hugs you, the both of you, again. “and pap. take care of the kid too. they’re good people.” 

“I PROMISE SANS.”

“and … don’t turn the world into spaghetti …”

“OF COURSE I WON’T.” You say as you dash to a short-cut. “AFTER ALL, IT ALREADY IS, SANS. IT ALREADY IS …”

The flashbacks are almost done now. Well, that’s not true. Ever since you walked into the Palace and asked a flabbergasted Mr. Dremurr for the location of the other six human Souls over a nice cup of Golden Flower Tea, you can see the flashbacks and the code still being written as you continue on your journey as a unified being affecting multiple universes.

The first thing you did after getting a human Soul was bury the human’s body. The human told you not to: that you both have great work to do, but you know you have time. They told you that it is just a shell and that once you’ve finished your Quest, it won’t matter anymore as this timeline will be negated anyway. But you did it in any case. You told them to do it.

You control your body fifty-fifty, or whatever number since then after the funeral and getting your six other human Soul friends on board the Papyrus Express (you promised the human never to use that terminology again in reference to your unique situation and arrangement). You made the hole and encouraged the human to take their body and place it down. They looked so old and fragile. Tears coursed down your face, though the human claims they were only yours.

Maybe it was your imagination, but you can feel some of their guilt and regret lighten a bit. Sans was also helpful. He even placed one of his favourite whoopie cushions into the hole to keep the human’s body company.

You read the notebook that the human left Sans, but you realized you knew most of this stuff anyway. Then you said your farewells to everyone else. Then your hellos to new friends and places. Then you said farewells and more hellos. You even met Fun Values and took care of Gaster (you still have no idea why no one can generally remember him, his name isn’t that hard). And now, you have a plan. It’s something even the human doesn’t know about. Yet.

Papyrus Devious

*Some of the others don’t understand. The human tells you. *We had already traveled to the time of the War. We explored the days before that. We even came to the very beginning of Asgore and Toriel’s reign Underground. At any point, we could have changed it. We could have destroyed the Barrier, or made sure it never existed to begin with. 

“AND WHAT DO YOU THINK, HUMAN?”

You hear a pause. And it is a sound. Even before the power of the Seven Souls, you’ve always known that silence has a sound of its own. It actually sounds like thinking: which is exactly what the human is doing inside of you before they respond.

Undertale War

*I think that disrupting history might complicate matters. It could endanger whether or not some of you even exist, or possibly make it worse in the process. And … some of you are so … angry. There is another moment of loud thinking. *And rightfully so. We imprisoned you down there and letting you out so quickly, after all that, without explanation, would be too dangerous for both humans and Monsters. Good intentions, don’t always go to good places, Papyrus. 

“NO HUMAN.” You tell them. “THAT KIND OF CYNICISM IS A BAD ATTITUDE TO HAVE. GOOD INTENTIONS ARE, WELL, GOOD. BUT I THINK THAT YOU NEED TO HAVE SOME GOOD ACTIONS TO GO WITH THEM, YOU KNOW? LIKE A FINE RED JAM WITH SPAGHETTI.”

*It’s good to know godlike power hasn’t changed your lack of taste buds, the human’s voice can’t help but chuckle, for which you are glad.

“ALL RIGHT. LET ME EXPLAIN IT ANOTHER WAY.” You tell them, you tell all of them. “I TEND TO THINK OF EVERYTHING IN TERMS OF PASTA … AND PUZZLES.”

*We couldn’t have guessed.

“WELL YOU WERE PREOCCUPIED IN EVERY TIMELINE WE MET, SO YOU ARE FORGIVEN HUMAN. NO. JUST AS I HAVE ALWAYS ENDEAVOURED TO CREATE THE GREATEST OF CULINARY FEATS OF PASTA, SO TOO HAVE WE SOUGHT TO MAKE THE MOST CHALLENGING OF PUZZLES. IT IS OUR KIND’S TRADITION. PUZZLES PROTECT US, BUT THEY ALSO CHALLENGE US. THEY MAKE US TRAIN, AND THINK, AND GROW. AFTER ALL WE, BY NATURE, ARE THE ULTIMATE GAMERS!” You chuckle. “YOU SEE, HUMAN, THERE IS NOTHING FUN OR REWARDING ABOUT HAVING AN ANSWER HANDED TO YOU. PUZZLES CAN BE TOUGH, MUCH LIKE PASTA, BUT WHEN YOU GET TO THE SOFT CORE OF IT ON YOUR OWN MERIT, THAT IS WHERE THE REAL JOY LIES. BUT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SEEK TO DO SOMETHING … DIFFERENT NOW.”

The human’s presence is slow and hesitant. *Does this have to do with the surprise that you’re planning, Papyrus.

“NYEH HEH HEHHH … HUMAN, YOU ARE MOST ASTUTE!” You have gained enough power and discipline, along with promises of personal privacy and common decency from the other Souls to pick up their soul-socks without having to write too many mental notes that you can keep some element of surprise in play for them. It’s more entertaining than being stuck in glass jars for years on end watching dust, or bashing your head against a temporal paradox one too many times.

“YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EXCELLENT AT FOILING THE MOST DIABOLICAL OF MY PUZZLES, HUMAN. LET’S SEE IF YOU CAN SOLVE THIS ONE, THIS GREATEST MOST WORTHY MYSTERY, BEFORE I DO.”

Papyrus Foiled Again.

*Papyrus. We should really do what we set out to. We don’t know how … long your body will …

Before it turns into a mass of ooze. You were already aware of that. As you’ve already stated in your internal monologues beforehand, it seemed most likely that only Boss Monsters or Vessels like your lost flower friend could safely hold this much power before liquidating like one of Sans’ failed quiches. You don’t like to think about Undyne in so many of the timelines who, on her own merit, managed to find Determination: or the poor people that Alphys tried to help out.

“WE HAVE BEEN GOOD SO FAR. EVEN UNDYNE, AT HER WORST, LASTED A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF TIME. AND THAT WAS WITHOUT A HUMAN SOUL. I HAVE ALL SEVEN OF YOU NOW. AND I FEEL … GREAT. AS IS MY NAME OF COURSE. BESIDES, THIS IS GOING TO BE OUR LAST STOP.”

*Papyrus, I made a promise to Sans. I won’t let you sacrifice yourself.

“AND I MADE A PROMISE TO SANS TOO, HUMAN. AND TO YOU.” You say. There is that loud quiet again inside of your merged Souls as you come to the closest rift: the one that you’ve been looking for. You marvel at this, one of your last journeys. Sans’ short-cuts are generally good, but limited to specific spaces and times and storage spaces for sleeping Gaster Blasters (while you only used them in the past to store your bones) whereas the Human’s Resets are linear in experience. Together, your journeys are winding and tangential. You make a good team. ‘AND HERE WE ARE. NEXT STOP FOR THE PAPYRUS EXPR –”

The collective groaning of your co-travelers is cut off by the sudden appearance of your current destination. It’s familiar to you, even though they aren’t necessarily your memories.

You are in the Underground again. Vast, ancient rumbling pillars surround you. You look up and see the hole of the mountain where humans can enter, but never leave. Somehow, though you don’t have lungs, you can feel the rest of your passengers holding their collective breaths: especially the human that was your first friend.

Where golden flowers should be growing are, instead, patches of hearty grass and dried dirt. Someone is lying on the ground.

Chara Has Fallen

They are wearing a green stripped sweater. Somehow, you know you have time before anyone else finds them.

Suddenly, one of your bones flies out from the short cut space where you keep them between training and duels. It’s your largest bone. Somehow the multi-coloured glow surrounding it is far less friendly than usual. The human lying on the ground looks up at you. They have paler skin and rosy cheeks. Long bangs of brown hair are plastered to their smudged face.

It’s like looking into a mirror, but it’s not you that’s looking — filled with rage and grief — and preparing to release your Special Attack.

“HUMAN.” You tell them. “PLEASE DESIST.”

Your human friend, controlling your Attack, does nothing. They aren’t listening. The human child opens their mouth. They scramble back, trying to find something: anything to defend themselves. But when all they find is dirt and grass, they lower their head. Then they look up at you again.

“Huh.” They say. Their eyes are distant and cold. “I didn’t know they had rainbow demons in hell.”

You don’t move. Neither does your Attack. But you find that you can still speak. “I AM AFRAID THAT YOU ARE NOT DECEASED. YOU ARE VERY MUCH ALIVE.”

*Not if I have anything to say about it!

“HUMAN, THAT’S ENOUGH.”

The human child in front of you looks up with some puzzlement. “What is …” They look up at the hovering bone. Then their face becomes expressionless again. “I see.”

You feel the other Souls wriggling inside of you. You realize that they are trying to stop your friend. But your friend was always so Determined. And now they are angry. They are screaming at them. At the child. At you in particular.

*Papyrus. Let me end this now. 

You shake your head. “NO HUMAN.”

*Papyrus. All of you. This is their fault. You are all here because of them. Let me kill them.

You shake your head again. Meanwhile, the child in front of you laughs. It is a cold, mirthless, dead sound. Even with the Seven Souls inside of you, even knowing how helpless they are, you can’t help but be disturbed by that sound.

“So that’s how it is.” The child says. “Well, I was going to do it anyway. Go on, Monster.”

*Let me kill them. They barely have enough LOVE yet. Hardly any EXP. If I kill them, I can end this. 

“HUMAN …”  You love the human, but you are not pleased with this development, even if if you should have expected it. This is their last chance.

“This world is cruel and vicious.” The child says. “It’s meaningless. I knew it was going to get me one day.”

*They made me kill Shyren while she sang. They made me kill my Mother after she made me pie. The Snowman kept screaming as they took him apart … as they laughed. And everyone … And Sans and … you. I’ll never forgive them. I’ll never …

The child sighs, as though bored of their incoming death. “It’s kill or be killed.”

That does it. “HUMAN, I AM DISAPPOINTED IN YOU. YOU ARE DOING EXACTLY TO ME WHAT THIS CHILD HERE DID TO ASRIEL.”

Suddenly, there is a surge of horror inside of you and your bone disappears.

*Oh … oh god. Papyrus I’m … oh no. It’s … it’s me.

“IT’S ALL RIGHT HUMAN.” You tell them, relaxing again, sending out some calming vibes to your friend inside of you. “DESPITE EVERYTHING, IT’S YOU.”

You urge the other Souls to comfort your friend as you turn your attention back to the child in front of you. They are completely still. If you didn’t know any better they might as well have been carved from the rock around you. You’ve chosen your words carefully. You are, after all now, a skeleton of great elocution.

“I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS.” You tell them, towering over them. “I AM AFRAID THAT YOU WON’T REMEMBER ME BY THE TIME WE ARE DONE HERE. A LONG TIME AGO, YEARS FROM NOW, IN ANOTHER PLACE, IN ANOTHER LIFETIME, WHEN YOU BECAME SOMEONE ELSE, MY BROTHER ASKED YOU A QUESTION.

“DO YOU THINK EVEN THE WORST PERSON CAN CHANGE?”

The child stares up at you: completely and utterly dumbfounded. “What …”

You sigh and begin to pace, moving your hands around in a way reminiscent of Gaster. “THE HUMAN INSIDE OF ME TOLD ME ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF LIFE AND IN PARTICULAR TIME TRAVEL. I ACTUALLY COMPARED IT TO PASTA AND PUZZLES. BUT MAYBE WHAT WE ARE REALLY DEALING WITH HERE, IS COOKING.

“YOU SEE, IF I DEALT WITH THIS THE WAY THE HUMAN WANTED TO, IT’D BE LIKE MY SPECIAL LESSONS WITH UNDYNE: MESSY, DESTRUCTIVE, AND ONLY FIRE WOULD LIVE HERE. UNDYNE IS A GREAT TEACHER, BUT THE STUDENT MUST EVENTUALLY SURPASS THE MASTER.

“BUT SPAGHETTI, YOU SEE, HAS TO BE AGED IN AN OAKEN CASKET. YOU HAVE TO TAKE TIME AND EXPERIMENT WITH IT. YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT.  YOU HAVE TO, IN THE WORDS OF MY BROTHER, SHOW IT LOVE INSTEAD OF LOVE. YOU ARE IN LUCK. MY BROTHER. HE LIKES JOKES. BUT ME. I LOVE RIDDLES.”

“AND THIS IS WHERE I NEED YOUR HELP.”

The human gets to their feet. You wait until they get themselves composed. Those dead eyes flicker with something you’ve not seen before: a shimmer of uncertainty.

“YOU SEE, I PROMISED MY FRIEND HERE.” You point to your chest where your friend is now watching, tense, sad, but incredibly observant. “I PROMISED THEM TODAY THAT I WAS GOING TO SOLVE A MYSTERY INSTEAD OF CREATING ONE. I WAS PLANNING ON GIVING THEM A SURPRISE.

“AND I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING AS WELL.”

You loom over the child and open up your arms. The human inside of you starts screaming again, but the other Souls are gently holding them back, and reminding them that they trust you.

You walk up to the child. They actually flinch back, but they stop themselves as you are both at eye-level now. Before they can react, you stretch out your arms and wrap them around the child. The human inside you grows as silent as the child you are holding.

The child themselves stiffens in your arms. “What are you …”

You close your eyes and draw on the power of your friends inside you. You imagine using this power to break the Barrier in two. You take that power and you imagine a series of hard, brittle noodles. In this state, they cut the insides of people’s mouths. They could damage their stomachs going down. And when you squeezed them, they could so easily break.

But you know that when you put them in boiling water, something will happen. The noodles will grow. They will expand and soften. They will settle into the bottom of the pot and lengthen to the point of becoming completely and utterly expansive … and inclusive.

That is the armour around the child’s heart. You feel their eyes widen. But now you need to release them out of the pot. Out of the boiling water that coursing, unabated now, through their Soul.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE OUTSIDE WORLD DID TO YOU, HUMAN. TO MAKE YOU FEEL THE WAY YOU DO, BUT I’M SORRY. I’M SO SORRY.”

Undertale Papyrus

You are burning with power now. It is coursing into the child’s mind and Soul: into their very being. The other Souls join in — including and especially your friend’s — and they soften the hard bits that are the child’s heart and conscience. They start to feel what you feel, what they feel. They get all of your friend’s memories. They feel the emotions and the pain of everyone they have touched: and everyone they haven’t even met yet. The child begins to shake violently: as hard as your friend’s Soul did that day above their aged body at Lesser Dog’s outpost.

“Wh-what I …” You gently let go of them. The child looks around. Then looks at you. Tears are streaming down their rosy cheeks. They put their shaking hands up to their face. “What is this?” they blubber. “What … what have I done? No … oh … oh god.”

The child wails. They fall onto their knees and puke. You rub their back gently as they scream. Years of pain and anguish experienced and inflicted rip out of them. The Souls inside of you are quiet as they realize what you have done. But then you hear the approach of footsteps from the Ruins and know that there isn’t much time left.

You whisper to the sobbing, convulsing child in front of you. “Remember. You can still be a better person.”

With that, you get up and walk behind a pillar. You watch as a young Boss Monster finds a crying, injured human child. You wait until the Monster takes the child and calls out for his parents.

Asriel and Chara

Then you step into a corner … and go into another shortcut.

You find yourselves back outside Snowdin: just out of Lesser Dog’s sentry post again. This time, however, the place seems more lived in: complete with even more sculptures than before. Your friend’s grave mound is no longer there.

*It’s funny. Your friend’s voice says through your head. *In some ways, I think what you did to them was far more cruel than simply killing them. Changing is painful. I remember that day, in the Ruins when you met me …

You walk towards the sentry house as you begin to release the other Souls out of your body: letting them dissipate out of you like a rainbow mist.

*That day I met my parents and my brother. I lived with what I did and tried to help them. When I died, the first time, I left. I told them I would come back one day.

The other Souls leave into the timeless space where all human and Monster Souls go when they are done. The world seems a little less vibrant now, but it’s replaced by a pleasant sort of tiredness.

*And I was told the story of the six other humans that found their way down here. Each one brought something new to New Home and Monsterkind. They were the children of the King and Queen, just as I was … Each generation would come until the Ambassador.

You smile.

Frisk the Ambassador

*The other six would leave their Souls with our parents and brother after showing Monsters that not all humans are bad.  And one with a strong Soul … will pass through the Barrier and help Monsters communicate with humanity and get a final voluntary Soul to free them. It’s amazing, Papyrus.

You feel your friend’s Soul relax and begin to rise out of your rib cage, out of your being.

*Even as a Soul, I can feel time expanding out, changing, like a noodle. My past is my future, and vice versa. I was the first. I remember being told about myself. I am also the last. I am not really here, am I? I … you are the real hero here Papyrus. Thank you … goodbye … 

“I DON’T ALLOW GOODBYES IN MY TOWN, HUMAN,” You say as a red light shines brilliantly and disappears. “SEE YOU LATER, MY FRIEND.”

Then you rest against the sentry post and go to sleep.

A little while later, someone nudges Papyrus.

“knock knock.”

Papyrus sighs, knowing there is no way around this. “WHO’S THERE?”

“doctor.”

“DOCTOR W — GAH! SANS! STOP WITH THE FREAKING PUNS!”

“well, someone had to wake you. seriously, bro.” Sans looks down at Papyrus with some concern. “i’m the one who sleeps around these here parts.”

“THAT’S FUNNY SANS. HEY. WHERE IS EVERYONE?”

“well … i don’t want to interrupt your rest six feet under, but …”

“SANS …”

“ok, well you know those humans you’re always looking for? well, prince asriel: he was in the ruins, at his sibling’s grave. and he found one.”

Papyrus folds his hands behind his head. “OH REALLY?”

“um. yeah. says they look just like the first kid. like his sibling. i … guess i see the resemblance. hey, what gives, pap?” Sans looks down at Papyrus quizzically. “i mean, uh, you’ve been looking forward to seeing a human for a while now. and what’s with the rainbow scarf getup?”

“WELL, PERHAPS THAT IS A MYSTERY FOR ANOTHER DAY. TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO. AFTER ALL,” Papyrus winks, as he gets to his feet, dusting off the snow that accumulated on his knees. “NOT ALL OF US CAN BE THE LEGENDARY FARTMASTER.”

Sans looks at Papyrus. Papyrus grins back at Sans. Suddenly, they both begin to laugh.

Sans and Papyrus

“what did you do, pap?”

“MYSTERY, SANS.” The taller skeleton says, putting an arm around his brother’s shoulders. “AND I WANT TO GO SEE THE HUMAN. AFTER I MAKE US SOME EGGS.”

“eggs?”

Papyrus shrugs. “YES. FOR SOME REASON I WANT SOME SCRAMBLED EGGS. AND SOME CLOVER. AND … WELL, I GUESS THAT NOT EVEN I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, CAN EXPLAIN EVERYTHING.”

Opposite of a Dog

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. Warning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

You are at Lesser Dog’s sentry post. You’re tired now: resting your back against the crumbling shack, your legs covered in a thin blanket of snow. It almost matches the long grey hair that’s covered your gaunt, exhausted face.

A faint smile flickers at the corners of your mouth and eyes when you look at the toppled snow sculptures of the long-necked dog. It’s been a while since he was here, you think to yourself. If his kind have the same lifespans as their cousins on the Surface, then he hasn’t been here for a long time and any successor he had probably had a post somewhere else that you must have somehow missed on the way here. It’d certainly explain why no one touched the sculptures: out of a sense of love and respect. You somehow know they spread his dust around his creations. It’s sad, somehow it fills you with a rosy sense of sentimental Determination … just for a little while longer.

Undertale Lesser Dog Sculptures

Your arms are wrapped around your upper body: enveloping the frayed and tattered blue and purple sweater on your body with warmth. You hold an object against you, huddling it into your chest.

And you wait.

“hey.” a voice says, waking you up from another longer blink. “ice to see you.”

So he is still alive. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise you. In fact, you were hoping for it.

“heh.” Sans walks out of the snowfall with his hands in his jumper pockets. “wasn’t my best, i gotta say. but i’m still on human-watching duty, so … freeze!”

You chuckle, but it comes out as a coughing fit. Still the same old Sans … in all the ways that mattered. The snow crunches under his feet as he comes closer to you. Somehow, those empty eye-sockets seem to squint down at you. Sans always said that he’d learned how to read people’s faces, but it’s you that sees it takes him a while to realize who he is looking at.

“kid.” He says, simply. “so this is what you’ve been doing these past couple of years? i mean, uh, pap and i could’ve shown you how to make snow angels.”

You see some lights in his eye sockets and, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the blue glow lifting you slightly off the ground, warming you, was another hallucination brought on by the cold.

You laugh again. It crackles a bit, but you aren’t doubled over this time. Even though Sans smiles, because he can’t do anything else, you can sense his intended frown.

“you leaving and not phoning us. i’ll admit: that was cold.” He says as he lowers you to the ground. “and it’s just, uh, icing on the cake to find you like this.”

If you didn’t already know that many of his puns and jokes were defense mechanisms more potent than what he really kept in reserve, the bead of sweat on his skull would have given away the fact that Sans is worried about you. As you feel your back gently land back in the snow, you know it’s time. Slowly, and with some effort, you uncurl your arms. Now that you’re trying to move again, they scream like a Nice Cream headache.

“hey.” Sans holds your arms and helps you move them apart. “what’s … that you got there, kid?”

Sans looks down and slowly pries the object out of your arms. You remember now. It’s an old, battered notebook. It’s ripped at the edges. Some of the papers had been ripped out but you’d found the missing pages and added new ones. Through the receding pain in your limbs, you manage to nod at Sans. The skeleton doesn’t ask if you if you want him to read it. You were never really much for small talk anyway. In fact, you were not much for any kind of talk at all. You know what you wrote in there. You’d written in it so much … and so many times that you know it all off by heart. You watch as Sans scans the first page of the notebook.

Hey Sans:

It’s not really a way to start off a diary. But this was never a diary to begin with. It was a Torn Notebook got it at Waterfall, from Gerson’s shop. It belonged to one of the humans that came here before me. They recorded some observations about the Underground and other things that I missed the first couple of times around. 

I’ve had a long time to think about this. I’ve had too much time to think about it, and do a lot about it. I think you know exactly what I mean. “let’s get to the point.” Right.

I’m a stupid doodoo butt.

I’m the legendary fartmaster.

Undertale Sans Password

Sans looks up at you as he found that passage. His eyes pierce your own. You now know that there is no turning back. He looks down, somehow closing his eyes, and he continues to read the pieced together notebook.

First, I’m going to tell you what happened this time around. After I met you in the great hall, I went to Asgore. I went to Asgore as I had many times before. I went there and he killed me. I went there and I killed him. I went there and Flowey betrayed and killed him. Sometimes he just killed himself. I went there and all of you interceded on my behalf. Toriel, the woman you trade puns with through the door to the Ruins — my Mom — saved me. 

But this time, I was going to do something different. I did my research in other Loads and Resets. I tried to find out as much about the other Souls — the other humans — as I could. I wanted to see how they died. Who killed them. I wanted to know if any of them just gave themselves up. 

Maybe you knew that. Maybe you even asked me about it and followed me. Perhaps you even helped me. But I can’t remember. There are too many variables and I can’t take items with me. Or Save them. 

Sans, I was going to give myself up. I’d do it myself and make sure that you didn’t break your promise to Toriel. I was going to give Asgore my Soul.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Undertale Asgore

Asgore let me go: to take care of any business I left unfinished. I think we both hoped I would never come back. I was surprised that you didn’t stop me or ask me what was going on. Everyone else thought I got past him somehow. No one ever came looking for me in any case. But I thought you, of all people, would have seen me. 

Perhaps you did. 

“kid …”

Sans briefly glances at you again and it is all the confirmation that you need. You incline your neck. You want him to keep reading.

So I ran away. I hid like a coward. I went back to the Ruins and Mom took me back. She never asked me what happened this time around. Maybe she thought the responsibility was too much for me. It makes sense. No matter what I was capable of doing, I was still a child Sans. I was scared. Still, it’s no excuse for …

She taught me things, Sans. Mom taught me more than how to survive in the Ruins. In addition to collecting and cooking snails, I managed to learn a little more about the humans that came before me. What each of them did. You know, a little more than the impressions I had when I had to face them, or free them so many times before. More than the objects they left behind. 

Mom also taught me some magic. I’ll never be as skilled as the rest of you, of course, but I know how it works now: just enough for when it counts. Between her and the encounters I’ve had I’ve learned how to bare my Soul. I’ve read the murals and spent time in the Library, Sans. I talked with Alphys. I even saw the True Lab and what she made with good intentions. 

Good intentions … Souls … They say that a human soul can survive without love. A being can even survive without a Soul. But that’s not true, Sans. A Soul can exist without love. A being can function without a Soul. But that’s not the same as living. Trust me, Sans. I should know. 

Undertale Flowey the Flower

You see Sans stop turning the pages as something catches itself between them. The large petal is still golden yellow after all this time. You avert your eyes from it, even as you remember why you put in there this time around. It is to remind you. You are so much older now, and he was still there taunting you, threatening you and your loved ones, waiting for you to die … You couldn’t risk that happening again. Not to them. Not to him. Even so, Flowey hadn’t resisted when you came that last time. But even his relief will never wash that guilt away.

There was another being who could utilize Determination. He was a being that could Reset. In almost every timeline Flowey took advantage of Asgore and stole the Souls away from him. It was one of the reasons I left. If I had died and Flowey had gained all Seven Souls himself … But it was not ever about the power, even with him. He was lonely, and soulless. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. We knew each other too well, Sans. 

The problem talking with you about any of this is that, every time I try, I never know just how much you know or remember. At one point you showed me your workshop and its drawers. I know that you can keep items and notes in there from other timelines. Maybe that is how you remember. Perhaps you have some psychic ability, or you just read faces well in addition to that sense of deja vu that a few other people get when I come around again. I just don’t know. 

And it’s not really important. As for why I came back to the Ruins, many of the above reasons are true. But there is one more thing.

I was afraid.

Again, I don’t know how much you know. You and Papyrus came to Snowdin a while ago and that is all the information I could get on you. But maybe you were working in the Hotlands then. I still don’t know much about Gaster: aside that I am aware that you had some association with him, or some of the … inventions that he created. Even finding the scraps and echoes of his presence — in the “Fun Values” of existence itself — it took every inch of discipline that Toriel ingrained into me in other timelines in addition to my Determination. 

Undertale DT

I don’t even know if he was involved with Alphys’ studies into the Human Soul but I know enough to realize that he could study timelines, perhaps much like you if you examine the graphs I pasted next to this entry. 

If you didn’t have Sans’ attention before, you know that you got it now. His eyes are definitely glowing and you can see his bony fingers shaking. And you know what’s coming next. You know what might happen.

Darkness. Darker and darker still … I didn’t want to admit it. It all began one day, after Mom kept me from leaving the Ruins. I ran upstairs, terrified from our first encounter, and lay down in my bed. That was when the memories started. But that’s not true. They started before, right after I fell. I saw the tapes in the True Lab. I heard about them at the Capital. I saw their clothes and their toys. 

I heard their voice in some isolated Echo Flowers. We even wore similar striped shirts. And we both fell through Mount Ebott. We even have … had the same colour Soul. And how could I read the Monster language on the murals and in the Library without having learned it from somewhere? There were times, Sans. It’s not so much a voice, at least not anymore. But it was a series of feelings and memories that weren’t my own. Most of the time they were impulses. I was so scared when I first came here. It seemed like everything was trying to kill me: to take my Soul. I thought everyone was like Flowey. Pretending to be nice, but biding their time … 

“It’s kill or be killed …”

Undertale Mirror

“kid.” Sans is shaking more than you are now. “that’s not possible. it can’t be …”

You shake your head violently. He needs to see this. He needs to understand and read on.

Sans puts the book down and his eye sockets are dark. “no.”

You look up at him. Your eyes start to blur. Your eyes are wide and pleading silently with him. You’re begging him to keep going. Sans regards you for a few moments, judging you much in the way that he did back in that palace hallway so many decades ago, so many different timelines ago. Your friend, your judge, your enemy continues to read the direction where your thoughts are headed.

Alphys never determined, if you’ll pardon the pun, what happens to a Human Soul when a Monster doesn’t claim it. She also didn’t determine what happens when a Monster carrying that Soul dies. Where does that Soul go, Sans? What does it do? Does it linger on the Earth forever? Does it move on? Or is it a cycle? Like a Reset. When Asriel died so many years ago, when he turned into dust, just what happened to Chara’s Soul? 

How is it possible to have two sets of memories? How it is possible for one set and its feelings and impulses to grow over your own? I thought they were a parasite or a demon. Perhaps a vengeful ghost buried in the flowers. I thought they were outside of me. But those early days, when I was first here, I fed them. I gave them what they wanted so I could survive. 

And when I was done, when they were done, I Reset and … the darkness, Sans. That’s why I really left. No matter how many times I Reset, or Load it’s there. Waiting for me. It eats at me, Sans. It chips away at what experience, what life I had, and I just couldn’t … I didn’t know if I could keep it at bay. I still don’t know … if I can keep it, from keeping myself, from killing everyone. Again. 

Undertale Chara's Deaths

You can’t even look at him. Tears flow down your withered cheeks. Sans is glaring into you now. And you can see it. Even through your blurry eyes what you’ve been building up to has finally happened. Sans has dropped the notebook completely. Only one of his eyes is glowing now. It glows with a luminescent cyan and baleful yellow. You remember that energy well. It haunted your nightmares for years. And now he remembers … now he knows too …

Sans glares down at you. “you dirty brother killer.”

You squeeze your eyes shut and turn away from him in shame. Those four words hurt you more than any bone, or Gaster Blaster ever could. But maybe now it will be easier. Perhaps now you can do what you set out to this time. Maybe you can finish what you’ve started.

“i should kill you.” Sans says. “i always felt something was off, with you. to think everyone, to think pap misses something like you. i can’t believe i didn’t see it at the palace. you looked so innocent. so determined. you’re disgusting. i wish didn’t make the old lady that promise.”

“Please.” You manage to say.

Sans pauses for a few moments. “please? please what?” Then you see understanding dawn in his expression. “you mean, you want to die?”

The skeleton is silent. He is looking at you, looking right into you. It is his judgment in the palace all over again: except this time with all of the facts. Just as suddenly, however, Sans’ eyes are back. He shakes his head, slowly, and then shrugs his shoulders.

“you know what? no.” He says. “i’m not going to do it. you know why, buddy? you’re just going to reset anyway, right?”

Undertale Sans Meglovania

“No.” You say, quietly. “I …” your voice is hoarse and quiet from disuse. “I don’t want to Reset anymore.”

“quit jossing me.” Sans’ grin is manic, angry. “what? you think this elderly shtick is going to make me feel sorry for you? you think letting yourself get all wrinkled and grey is going to get me into your sick little routine? no. i’m not giving you what you want.”

Sans picks up your notebook. “you chose the darkness. you even said it’s a part of you. you’re the one that dropped the ball, buddy. the moment you gave into it, you deserved everything you got. the only reason you’re pulling this guilt and remorse thing is so that you can save yourself. so i can put you out of your misery. and even if i wanted to, and i don’t, it won’t even work. you’ll just come back. but that’s fine. i’ll tell you what buddy.

“i’m going to take this here notebook and, uh, put it in my drawer. i’m going to read it. and when that darkness takes you again, because you’re weak and you’ll do it, i’ll be ready for you. i’ll use what i find in here to give you a bad time. i’ll use it to hurt you. but death? nah, kid. that’s too good for a brother killer like you.”

“… you’re right.” You say. “I am a brother killer.” You let the sins of other timelines and other lives crawl down your back. “I killed mine too. I’m glad you will never have to know what that feels like.”

Sans’ eye burns into you. “live with it or just don’t come back. it’s not our problem.” He starts to turn away.

“You can stop me from Resetting.”

Sans stops. You start coughing again. They are hard, raucous spasms. A minute of the sound goes by before you get your breath back.

“You can stop me from using the Reset. Forever.” You repeat. “You’ve read this far.” You tell him. “I know you want to stop me. Please. Finish reading. I … it will save us … save you time.”

Sans stands there with your notebook in his hands. Finally, he shrugs his shoulders again. “well, i guess we both, uh, got some time to kill, huh.”

You watch as Sans flips through more pages. They are diagrams of the different coloured hearts, the Souls currently in Asgore’s collection. You placed it right next to your findings and theories about Souls and your current predicament.

Undertale Asgore and the Six Human Souls

I’ve realized that the Reset is not always a conscious force on my part. I’m not even sure that Chara themselves is responsible for it. I recall Flowey’s observations, when he told me about how close to death he was once. There was a will, a struggle to survive, to live, to exist. I think that Determination is just another aspect of self-preservation. It’s inherent in everyone: Human, Monster … Plant. 

I could die, I have died a thousand times, but something, sheer animal instinct perhaps, will always bring me back: and specifically bring me back here to the Underground. I can’t end myself. I can’t stay dead. I’m too weak, Sans. 

But I think I know what I have to do now. It has, ironically, taken time Sans. I gathered all the information here into this book: taken from the Purple Soul who had it before me, the murals, the Library, Alphys’ notes, transcripts of your timeline graphs, my own recollections and interactions. All of it. 

The final reason that I ran from Asgore was partly for this purpose, and also out of pure selfishness. It never occurred to me before to live out my life down here. I needed more lived experience, more knowledge, and a sturdier sense of reality. But I also wanted to spend more time with my Mom, before … She doesn’t know Sans. I mean, she knew I had to leave again. I’ve lived a long life, for someone of my kind. I sharpened my mind and my will, and I let my body age. I robbed that other part of me of almost any other tool or weapon to get to this point. 

But I am getting older and Mom doesn’t age like most people. I just couldn’t do that to her. I don’t want her to see me like this. But I’ve had my time, Sans. I’ve had more than my time. I took all of yours. I mentioned good intentions earlier. And even in staying away from Asgore, I’ve only allowed the Underground to suffer. I can see the decline in birthrates and the stagnation setting in. I abandoned you. But I won’t turn away from this final task. 

I regret what I’ve done with my Resets, with all the people I’ve hurt through my actions and inaction. There is one thing I need you to do now. I think you already know what it is. I still can’t surrender myself to Asgore. We both know that he can’t handle this burden. No one else can. I’ve seen what that kind of power does to a Monster, or something close to it. 

I know you don’t like to work Sans. You pride yourself on your laziness if I can still say so. But you know, or you can view the timelines. You are aware of the SAVE state, of LOADING, of the RESET and the TRUE RESET. You are already a master of spatial travel. And you have the will. All you need is time now. And I have honed myself to the point where I can help you do what needs to be done. 

You know what to do, Sans. You know how to end this.

You can’t afford not to care. 

Undertale Sans Lab

Sans closes the notebook. You look up at him, silently pleading, knowing that he has now seen everything. You await his decision. Sans shakes his head.

“it’s not fair.” He says. “taking your time travel and using my own jibes back at me before i even make ’em. heh, you really are a class act. you know that?” His shoulders slump. “the sad thing is, i can tell you really mean it. you did some shitty things, killing us and taking our future away, but i can see it. you’re tired. but i’m tired too. and, uh, no offense, but after everything i really don’t want that soul of yours in me.”

You know this is your last chance. Sans is on that brink. You just need to hit home your point now. You dive deep into what strength you have left.

“Think of the timelines.” You say, your voice quavering. “Think about Monsterkind.

“Think about Papyrus.”

Undertale Papyrus

You lay your head back in the snow. That’s it. That is everything you can say to him now. The pain in your limbs is becoming more distant: just another set of memories that aren’t your own. You hear Sans’ footsteps crunch near your head. You focus your eyes and look up at him.

“you really want to die, don’t you.”

“This …” you cough for a long time. “This was never … about me … Sans. I read.” You force the cold air into your lungs. “I know the Prophecy. I was just a kid that never even knew how to make a snow angel.”

“… dammit.” Sans crouches down near you. “kid …”

You start shaking. Sans’ hand is on your head. “kid!”

It’s almost time now. The feeling is almost unbearable. You moan and writhe as you will the sensation out. You can feel Sans’ blue magic enveloping you.

“it’s ok, buddy. i’ll get us to snowdin and …”

You push up your sleeves. The pinpricks that are Sans’ eyes seem to shrink in horror. “kid, what did you do …”

“Too late. I … prepared. Before this.” The red through your cut wrists contrasts against the white around you. “I had years of practice …”

“no.” You can feel Sans’ magic attempting to knit your flesh together, but your body is too old and it would take Sans time to move you and potentially cause you more injury. “don’t do this …”

“Don’t worry.” You say, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s all right. If it makes you feel any better … it’s like my Soul … it tastes just like ketchup.”

Undertale Heart

“… t h a t ‘ s  n o t  f u n n y.”

“No.” You shudder. “I don’t … suppose it is. I’m … sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”

You can’t make out Sans’ face now, but there seems to be something running out of his blurry sockets. “it’s … it’s ok buddy. just hold on … no …”

You feel the warmth of your Soul rise up. Everything is red. It’s redder than your own blood. It is bathing the white around you in vitality. Your pain is gone now. The darkness of lifetimes is finally gone. You feel at peace.

“Sans …” You say. You find his finger bones clutching your hands. “Promise me … please … take my Soul. Take the others that Asgore has. End this. I … I believe in you.”

“buddy …”

You look up and see the dog sculptures: some spiraling out of themselves, or deep into the ground. Others broken and crumbling. Still more are left unfinished. It’s somehow fitting: that it would all end here. Another thought occurs to you.

“Hey … Sans …”

The bony hands hold yours tighter. “what is it, kid?”

“… I have a joke for you.” The crimson of the floating heart of your Soul envelops the both of you now, but you are still looking at the sculptures. “What do you become when you spell a dog backwards?”

Sans pauses, tears coursing down his eye sockets. “i don’t know, kid. what do you become?”

Undertale Lesser Dog

But you are already gone.

Sans looks at the old human, who had once been a child, lying there in front of him. All that is left of them is their Soul … and a smile on their face. Slowly, tenderly, the skeleton closes their eyes.

He stares at the human Soul floating above their chest. He thinks about the timelines, and his friends. And Papyrus. He thinks about himself. Sans exhales the invisible knot of grief and pain that had somehow been in the centre of his fleshless rib cage.

And then: Sans understands.

“heh.” he says. “i get it now.” He regards the red Soul. “still not funny.”

Then he slowly shakes his head.

“eh.” he sighs, reaching one hand towards the Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”

SAVE FAILED

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. There be Spoilers here. Do not say that you were not warned.

I’m not sure when it happened. Sometimes I forget … sometimes …

Yes. Recording. I don’t know how much time I have left. Or there’s too much time … to contemplate what happened. I’d reached Entry 17 of my Scientific Journal. I hope that you both found it in my attachment.

I remember now. I was examining the Souls. The Barrier was created around us: sealing us Underground with the power of human magic. There are two schools of thought on this matter: first, that humans only gained power through the consumption of Boss Monster Souls that exist longer than those of most Monsters. However, there have historically been few Boss Monsters among our kind and even they do not last as long as Human Souls.

Human Souls are energy sources that utilize a power known as Determination. Alphys, or perhaps you — Sans — will come up with this label. It makes sense that if the apex of Monsterkind can gift Humans with power, that any Human Soul grants us a far greater measure of possibility.

Undertale DT

I made plans for a DT Extractor, but I fear that won’t nearly be enough. But I have made a machine that allows me to utilize this energy in a limited capacity. I didn’t want to use the Souls themselves — that power was to be for His Majesty — but I distilled enough energy through the matrices to view the time lines: to see what possibilities there are to escape from the Barrier’s properties.

Through my machine, I was able to find the underlying codes and variables of reality. During the War, it was said that the Humans were able to cancel out previous actions, or come back from death itself. Some could even change events entirely and … confuse the memories of others. A truly terrifying, and magnificent power if there ever was one. One common theme in my research into the matter was that this Human SAVE function created a node in reality: a place that intersected between psionic, spiritual and geomantic dimensions. Essentially, a SAVE is a spot in the land itself created by the power of Determination.

I realized that seeing the timelines, and then the codes of existence — the “fun values” — was the first step. The second would be to observe and eventually manipulate said values. Eventually, if taken towards its inevitable conclusion, one could theoretically create a RESET: that same power that took victory away from us time and again: leaving all but a few without memory of our past achievements in the War and perhaps even the deaths of other Boss Monsters for Human ends. Truly, a distressing concept.

With a RESET, we wouldn’t even need to circumvent the Barrier with the correct number of Human Souls. Rather, we would restart reality itself and change history. We could rewrite the War. We could have made it so that the Humans had never won. Or perhaps that the elements that began the War never occurred. We could have made it so that we had never been imprisoned to begin with.

But before that final phase in our potential endeavours, there was the third phase: the SAVE function. This would be essential in case anything should go wrong. In fact, SAVING would be valuable in and of itself. Aside from the potential therapeutic qualities of spontaneous regeneration more potent than even healing magic, imagine if anything should happen to the Underground: if there were a calamity of some kind such as a sickness or even an invader that our magic isn’t capable of halting. The ability to LOAD from the SAVE would allow all denizens of the Underground to survive. Perhaps, over time, we could even begin to slowly and gradually absorb the powers of Determination from our SAVE points. If not in our generation, then certainly in further and future generations we had the potential to develop that power and free ourselves altogether. Certainly, learning from our previous mistakes and memories would only bolster our potential as a species.

The possibilities are endless. But so are the tribulations.

You couldn’t conceive of what I saw. When I extracted that small amount of Determination into my machine, I saw all the building blocks of life, space, and time. All of the possibilities. Well, that isn’t true. Sans, you know exactly what I’m talking about even now. The experience was greater than anything else I’d ever achieved: more than my Blasters, even more than utilizing the geothermal power of the Earth to create the Core seemed minuscule compared to this. Even so, the work that led to the Core, miniaturized, was just the first step in utilizing geomantic energy to make our first SAVE point.

I think you know the first mistake by now, you two. The darkness I warned you about earlier. There was … there is an anomaly. I can’t account for it. It threatens all the timelines. I’ll admit: it terrified me. That was when I knew. The Barrier was petty compared to the threat of this cosmological aberration. I had to make that SAVE. I had to override reality to save us all.

I should have spent more time … but that’s exactly what I have now. More time. Yes. I said that already. I accessed the fun values. I attempted to change them. I tried to focus the machine’s Determination energy into one area and then I SAVED.

It didn’t work.

I didn’t unify in one place as I know I should have. Instead, I felt my body, and my being, spreading thin … disintegrating … I scattered everywhere. I’m data in the Core. I’m a child who should have died. I am a man who, in another time, decided to walk away from a Spider Bake Sale. Or I’m a face from the ground talking about myself, listening to everything …

I’m right behind someone. I’m sailing down a river? And I’m in a grey version of a room that I changed with tainted SAVE data. Use it to store anything. Not even a RESET will erase the matter in there. Not even the broken machine …

Undertale Sans Lab

But there is, there was some strange creature in front of me … Perhaps that is the anomaly? I was so focused on understanding it, on stopping it.

But there is a difference between Determination and obsession.

My friends, I don’t know how coherent I’m going to remain. I don’t even know if I’m talking to you in one timeline, or another. Or all of them. But you are all in danger. The Darkness will come from either outside, or within … Don’t listen to the Flowers. Beware the Child … I don’t understand … I’m everything, I’m …

Sans. Papyrus … I’m you. I’m will try to find a way to find you. Take care, my … take … Stay determined. Stay Determined … stay de-terminated … deter … mine …

….

Jen: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Two years ago now, I immersed myself in the world of Thra: in an attempt to write a novel for The Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering Contest. Every day I would write notes on my novel outline in my journal while reading the old novelization and the visualized encyclopedia. Before this, I had only taken smaller creative challenges that I displayed on this very Blog. But taking this on, even though I didn’t end up creating a novel, actually helped to save my sanity and cultivate my own creative energy. 

Still, sometimes I regret the fact that I didn’t write that Gelfling Gathering novel or the short story I had planned. To be honest, though, sometimes I’m just sad the contest itself ended: with all the interactions on the Community Forums and the possibilities of making myself a part of this world. During this time I wrote a few story sketches on the Board: to immerse myself and my writing into that world. Basically, I wanted to see if I was capable of writing Dark Crystal stories. So in honour of that special time in my life, I want to present to you one of the first story sketches that I made: from the point of view of our favourite Gelfling Jen in light of everything I learned afterwards. I hope you will enjoy this, my friends for I know I did, in writing it. Take care. 🙂 

Jen watches the luminous beings—the urSkeks—as they ascend into the air, through the Crystal, dissipating into mist, into space, and time and energy, and all the other elements and concepts that his Mystic teachers and friends attempted to instill in him until they were gone completely: as though they had never been there to begin with … as though they had never come to Thra at all.

But Jen knows better. The gleaming palatial white of the Castle that houses the Crystal of Truth—once blackened and warped by the filth and depravity of the Skeksis—is a testament to the beings that were here: that did all of these things. He sees the inscriptions on the newly clean walls: with art and frescoes rivalling that of the ruins of the Gelfling cities … so many cities … so many people … so many of his own kind gone.

UrSu had known. All of the Mystics—the urRu—had known. Even when they taught him, he sensed their collective weariness—their awful guilt—and a few moments ago he realized why.

Jen looks out through the window at the sky. The three suns have passed other another. The Great Conjunction has ended: not to begin again for another one thousand trine. And the wake of those three mingled suns leaves Jen with much to think about.

The urRu and the Skeksis had been one people: two halves of the same being.

His Master had always instilled into him that everything has symmetry and balance: and that when balance was broken, Nature—abhorring a vacuum—would adapt accordingly. UrAc, the Scribe of his people, of his brothers, once showed Jen a myth that his long-departed brother—who Jen now remembers as urLii the Storyteller—used to tell in which a race of great and powerful beings challenged the gods and for their hubris were torn asunder into two peoples. They would spend the rest of their existences trying to live and yet always searching for their other halves. UrAc had written this tale down: as one of the many chronicles that urSu let him see when he was learning to read, and the irony of this story does not escape him now.

He saw them. After the Skeksis cut down Kira, even after he saw her graceful, beautiful winged form crumple to the ground reaching for him and he slammed the burning shard into the Dark Crystal with a righteous fire in his veins, he saw his teachers come into the Chamber. They surrounded the Crystal and he saw them … He saw the light refract from the whitened Crystal blazing as they drew the panicking Skeksis towards them.

The usurpers of Thra were so afraid: as their moment of triumph became one of their greatest fear. It was as though the Skeksis feared death and, in a way, that is exactly what happened. Jen saw that even the Skeksis that tried to trick him and Kira, become drawn into the waiting arms of urSol. The urRu had always been so hunched over, so old, so humble but when they came before the restored Crystal they towered powerfully … majestically over the quailing Skeksis. They were beautiful as their thoughts and considerations finally followed through to definitive action.

The words of the long-dead Storyteller flashed through Jen’s mind of two becoming one again. So much more happened after that. The urSkek—the one that had ordered the Garthim and urIm the Healer both—told him so little, but enough. One mistake had cost them their unity, one mistake had cost the lives of the Gelfling people, and almost the life of Kira. But then … the urSkek sang and his brothers sang with them. It was urSol’s chant and the deep resonant hum of the other Mystics only with another chord running through the sound, a high pitch to match the heavy thrum. For a few moments Jen thought he had heard what was once the squealing “mmm” of the Skeksis he met before, which he now saw as just a broken fragment, a base echo of the brilliance surrounding him as his heart glowed against Kira’s body: clutching it for dear life.

And as the music filled him, it was like the dreamfast … only different. There was no touch of skin, but it went beyond that. He saw stars and a crystalline world, and the urSkeks, Thra in the beginning, Aughra younger and his people all whole and spreading throughout the world … the urSkeks aligning crystals to make the Crystal brighter, cultivating it … the Great Division, the inhibitions of the urSkeks turned into the Skeksis and their horror, the compassion and conscience of the urRu powerless to do anything but protect and pain, and sorrow, and joy, and peace and yearning manifesting into one place through another people entirely: Jen’s people … Jen and …

The joy of Kira stirring against his breast would never leave Jen as long he lived. And that was when he saw the glimmers of the urRu through the strange and ageless forms in front of him, the active power that was once embodied by Skeksis made into something positive again.

And now they are gone: the urSkeks leaving them with the mysteries of the Castle and the Crystal: with hope. Kira is at Jen’s side: stirring against him. Jen realizes he isn’t angry at the urRu for not telling him. They did in their way. But he wonders. What of the urRu and the Skeksis that died before the Conjunction: fragmented and separate? Were they consigned to a void? To an abyss of nothingness? Did the gentle and inquisitive urTih cease to exist? And what of urSu: the wise Master that shared his fate with a dying corrupted Emperor: who Jen now knew had finally let himself die so that he could succeed this day?

But then Jen remembers. He recalls his Master telling him about another life, and Aughra saying that urSu could be anywhere. Jen smiles and closes his eyes: basking in the light of the Crystal and Kira by his side: for he now remembers another lesson. For just as urSu once told him that Nature abhors a vacuum and that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, the urSkek also taught him another lesson.

Everything is connected.

It is with this thought that Jen knows he and Kira can build again: and that there is again, finally, hope.

Jen and Kira

Black Cat

This is an alternate ending to Fummy’s The Witch’s House. If you want to play the game and not get any spoilers, do not read any further. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

Ellen already thinks that I’m gone. And that suits me just fine, really. She’s been a lot of fun, these past couple of years, centuries … Time makes no difference to me. Time is boring. But we’ve both got what we wanted, in the end.

Well, almost.

The fact is: I couldn’t miss this for the world. She got out of the house that I crafted for her, that she built on with all that pain and suffering, mixing the potion in exactly the same way I taught her to destroy the wall of roses and thorns that Viola made for her. Ah, Viola. Poor Viola.

But look at her tenacity. Ellen did quite a job on her. It was easy, from I understand. Viola was a lonely girl, without a mother, with her fearfully overprotective father always hovering over her. She didn’t have any friends her age. There aren’t many little girls that live in the woods. In fact, there are no other little girls that live in these woods. Not anymore.

Ellen used everything I taught her to get one last new “friend.” The magicks keeping her alive, for far longer than her weak, diseased, frail, pale violet-haired little form should have even existed, were waning. She was practically bed-ridden by the time she lured beautiful, healthy, blonde-haired Viola to her side. And played Viola like her musical namesake: appealing to natural sense of pity, compassion, kindness and — more importantly — her sense of loneliness.

It’s funny. They were different from each other in so many other ways, but I’ll bet if they really had time to look at themselves in the cracked mirrors of my house they would have seen that loneliness was the only thing they ever had in common.

Oh, Ellen. I taught you far too well. Maybe I’ve just been in this form for far too long. I mean, you’ve won. You could have killed Viola many times over. You could have killed her from the very beginning. The body-switching spell that I taught you only required her initial consent: after that, you could have made her rat-food.

But there you are. You just have to gloat over her. You just have to remind her about how she agreed to let you borrow her sweet young body for just one day, how she trusted you, how you cut off your own legs with that knife, blinded yourself, and made her drink that potion that destroyed your old body’s voice to render her so helpless …

You thought of everything, my Ellen. But you just had to toy with her, didn’t you? And, I see … her father is coming. With his gun. I see exactly what you want to do. It’s brilliant. He will see you, in Viola’s body and see Viola trapped in the ruined horror of your old form and kill her.

I have to say, it didn’t take much to shape you into this. I mean, you already killed your own parents before you even knew I existed. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed eating their souls immensely, but I wanted more. You still had some regret then, some fear over your own death, but it didn’t take much to assuage those bad feelings away with promises.

And I did promise you, didn’t I? I promised to teach you how to write. And I did. I taught you to read all those stories. I instructed you in magic and how only equivalent exchange — instead of literal, physical keys — could unlock the secret places in my house. And I told you the secret of how to exchange your body for another’s. I even said I would help you do it: that my house and I would disappear once Viola was gone and you could start your new existence.

Of course, I also told you I would miss having this form.

Silly Ellen. You really should have cut off your own hands.

You still don’t get it. She’s not just uselessly twitching those fingers in your own blood in the soil down there. She has made her final decision. The thought never crossed your mind.

Just how was Viola able to use your own magic against you?

The thing about me, that you never questioned, is that as long as there are shadows I can be in more than one place at the same time. Remember, Ellen, time is boring to me. Most of it is filled with eating souls that I can’t hunt myself, because I can’t touch this world without one of you, or playing games with my prey in my own little way.

It wasn’t as easy as you might think it was. Viola truly was a really good girl. She, like your pet frog, really did love you. I’ve never understood unconditional love, the thing you’ve wanted badly: more than discarding that rotting corpse of a body. But it is an interesting bauble to play with.

The pain of being in that mutilated husk of yours got to Viola, my dear Ellen. It didn’t take much. She had already been desperate enough to drink that potion you gave her, to “make the pain go away.” And I promised her, just as I promised you so many years ago, that I could help her if she helped me, if she listened to me, if she … fed me.

But she resisted. She was on her way though. Just as you have fragments of her memory in your body, she had pieces of yours: just enough, with my gentle guidance, to use the house, to make illusions … to create that wall of roses. It was all just to stop you, though. She wasn’t there yet.

It wasn’t until I mentioned her father, being all alone, being alone with you, that she agreed to my terms.

And even then, all I gave her was the spell. Oh, there you are my sweet Ellen. Right back where you belong. Oh, look at her abuse you. She is angry. Kicking your ruined head. What is that look in your eyes, my friend? Betrayal?

Silly girl: what did you think witchcraft was all about? It is about equivalent exchange again, about substituting one thing for another. Actually, I lied Ellen. Witchcraft is about false equivalency. Did you really think you were getting anything close to an equal exchange in our dealings? Did you think that’s what you gave all those poor little boys and girls you experimented on all those years?

But more than that, I even told you: witchcraft is about giving your familiar, your tutor, a physical form: thus making you a witch. And even more than that, Ellen, it was all about keeping me fed … and entertained.

Oh, she’s stepped on your brittle little fingers. Viola’s already learning. In fact, she’s learned so much. She will make an excellent witch. Tell me, Ellen, though we will have more time to talk soon I see Viola’s father coming with his gun, do you know what is more delicious than eating innocent, murdered souls? Do you know what is more nutritious than dining on a soul tainted with centuries of bitterness, resentment, and cruelty?

What is more wonderful is taking an innocent soul, tempting it, destroying it, warping it in on itself, and turning it into another witch’s soul that — one day — I will eat with great relish. In the meantime, I will have a whole lot of appetizers.

Starting with you, Ellen.

Ah, you were attacking his poor daughter and got some gunshots to the head for your troubles. Still trying to get the happiness you never had, the joy you’ll never feel. I see the light fading from your bloody sockets. Now that is A Funny Story. Is that despair? I bet you didn’t expect that reward. But don’t worry, Ellen. I will take my time consuming you, just to let its flavor set in a little more.

In the meantime, yes, that’s right Viola. Thank your father for saving you. Introduce him to me. He is just relieved the witch didn’t get you and will give you anything now. And look at the new house, the new life, you’re going to build for each other.

But remember our agreement, young lady. You will feed me souls. And for the soul transference spell, you promised me the very first soul that came your way. It’s not like he really understood you anyway.

Yes, I just have to say: in the end it’s really easy being a little black cat.

Black Cat

Mercy

The sequel and “Companion” piece to The Writer.

I look at the ruins of what I used to be and I smile. They are more peaceful now: metal and alabaster covered in weeds and flowers.

It’s been a while since anyone visited my grave. The Incarnations, ­­even some of the Great Old Ones that are smaller on the outside, sometimes like to stop by but the main ones, Pain and Death, stopped coming ages ago.

But Time never seems to stop. She’s always there. She is always there even now that he isn’t. Sometimes I think Time knows a lot more than she’s letting on when we pass each other in the streets of this world, and so many others.

I travel. I travel a lot. It seems old habits die hard that way, but even though my body is gone now, I find it amazing. There was a time when all of the stars and planets in this system were uninhabited. There were no psychic impulses, no telepathic fields: nothing. The only evidence of anything here having been anything other than eternal are the glyphs read on the corpse of me that became the site of my chrysalis.

He made them, but I’m the only one that can read them.

For now.

There is still some time. I could walk: it’s true. The breezes on the First World, Elysium, were always temperate even in the beginning. Instead I concentrate. It’s less that there are coordinates in my mind and more impressions of where I want to be.

I find myself in front of a small cottage surrounded by a larger garden.

“One day I will put down my pen. I’ll settle us down and work with what already exists. No more late nights. You won’t even have to kick me out for air …”

I shake my head. Even now The Tender, as everyone knows him, spends more time on his grounds than anywhere else. Nothing has changed, even if everything has.

He’s there. He’s wearing homespun overalls and a faded white shirt. His hands work a hoe as he plants another one of his cuttings into the earth. I remember his hair being so dark and short. But under his wide-­brimmed and ridiculous hat it’s now all shaggy and white.

Somehow, he always had long fingers. Even though gloves cover them, I know they still work calmly and methodically. I remember them being steady when they weren’t working furiously across a keyboard or a control board in a frenzy of inspiration. His movements had always been slower than The Other’s, but that was okay. He didn’t have to be fast.

I can see them trembling a little now. He lets go of the cutting and sits cross­legged on the ground: just as he always used to do. I wonder just how much he remembers before I notice the colour of the grass he’s sitting in.

“From now on, until this War is over, I will be The Poet Laureate Triumphant. I shall be your Orator. For we shall spread across the cosmos and show the Enemy that we are the red grass of Gallifrey!”

He takes off one of his gloves and plays with a strand of grass: lost in some thought or reverie he probably cannot name. He was so good at Naming: well, everyone but himself anyway.

The Poet Laureate. The Poet Laureate Triumphant. The Orator. And now The Tender. I resist rolling my eyes. At least the other names were just parodies and self­aware ironies. Even at his worst, he knew when to laugh at himself.

I wonder, again, if there is still some part of him laughing at all of this until I see … her.

Death stands behind him. She’s beautiful, I’ll give her that. And she’s standing in a white summer dress, metres away and entirely too close to my Writer.

Death. This was not the first time I died.

I died ages from now on a distant world in another place and time. I forgot in a War that I almost forgot. I didn’t remember what happened to my pilots but as parts of me lay in fragments or phased in and out of consciousness I could still feel the call of my heartbeat.

“A Battle TARDIS.”

“Wow. This must be an old design. I’ve never seen this kind before.”

“Or it’s a new one. The war might not have happened yet. She may not have happened

“That’s no ‘she.’ It’s just an old wreck.”

“No. She’s not. Can’t you hear it? Her Heart is singing …”

“Whatever. I’m going back to the Academy.”

“Wait. What–­­”

“Not my fault you suck with piloting. You can stay here with your piece of junk girlfriend.”

“Please! Get back here! Come back! Please … don’t leave me here …”

He was just a boy when his friends left him. I was old when my own companions left me.

“This panel. It’s … repair options. This is automated? Yes. Yes, I see. Thank you.

“I love your song.”

It took time, but I got us off and away from that world. He kept me hidden, his little secret, but he spent all that time nursing me back to health: healing me and making me better. We helped each other in our own ways. It wasn’t long before he graduated the Academy and it seemed like we had all that time to ourselves … for as long as it lasted.

No. I’m not jealous. I wasn’t jealous when he brought the Tree female Amber aboard. Or Venra the Silurian. And Elentha the Malmooth was kind. I did draw the line on that Carrionite female, however. Even though she helped advance his work considerably, I didn’t care for her trying to kill him.

But even this is different. I was willing to share him with the other women in his life. I’ve even met others since he … left as well. But I think I’ve shared him with you for too long, Death. I think you’ve been around us for far too long.

I don’t blink but she vanishes like a Weeping Angel just the same. He sits there, seemingly oblivious, for a while until he finally mutters to himself, gingerly rises to his feet, stands for a few more moments, and goes back into his cottage.

He’s not human, or even the equivalent of one. Even as he is now, he’s lived a long life and outlasted many wives and lovers. Sometimes there were even groups of them. Some things never change I guess. But it won’t be long now. Still, I can’t help but think of how happy he is.

Maybe it’s for the best that he’s forgotten.

There is a vessel burning in space. It will burn eternally, pitilessly, if left to its own devices: bitten piece by piece and crumbling each by inch into the Time Well. He looks on. Not even his Words can stop this.

I make the decision.

I fire a time torpedo and the suffering vessel freezes into place: the dynamism of its molecules stilled and allowed to shatter quickly like ice smashed with the precise blow of a hammer. The suffering vessel exists no longer.

He looks at me. While the other pilots call me by my designation, he always calls me “Lovely” or “my love.” But today he pats me with one long­-fingered hand and says my name.

“Mercy.”

I should have been slag. But not only did my Writer restore me, but through some Time Lord instinct and my will combined with perhaps the fracturing of time itself, we changed my fate.

“Mercy … please watch over them. Watch over these worlds, over my children …”

I remember, after centuries of work and isolation, when he placed the fob watch over my Heart … and he changed for the last time.

But so did I.

The watch and all that regeneration energy infused the Heart of me. The Workshop remains in flowers, wildlife, and beautiful fragments but I still remember that time when the Heart of me soared and transformed. New organs and parts, hands, legs, arms, toes, a shapely torso, a neck, a head and a face. Even as I look on at his departure, I realize that ­­ on that day ­­ my Writer was not the only one who had a wish.

“My friend left me a book from Earth. Mother Night tells you that you are what you pretend to be: or that, at the very least, you will become it.

“I’m tired, Mercy. I think I want to become something else now.”

I walk away from the cottage: his memories and mine entwining in my mind whenever I get too close. There have been so many times I wanted to awaken him. I might not travel as I once did, but I still think we can have many adventures. I still think I can drag him to many more places.

It’d be good for him.

Or me.

I want to respect his wishes. He helped me escape a fixed point in time, intentionally or otherwise, and he already lost so much. I’ve been in war. I was made for war. I lived it my whole life. Until I met him. We spent so brief a peace time together. I never wanted this for him. I’d never wish war on anyone, but least of all him. He wasn’t made for it. But all I could do was be at my Writer’s side in the only way I could. And we did what we had to do …

And he deserves this peace.

Yet something is different now. It even took me a while to realize what it is. It’s like new memories or old senses have reawakened in me.

And that was when I realized that the Ways are open again.

What’s more: I felt a fissure in this reality. Something, someone, called to me. She feels different and younger, but familiar. I sensed her earlier. I decided to call out to her then. I waited.

She came with two others. I can feel strong echoes emanating off them. I see them at the remains of the Workshop: of the discarded cocoon and layers of myself. They are actually reading the glyphs.

I’ll keep waiting. Perhaps he should hear the news from them before it’s too late. My Writer needs to know. He needs to know that this story isn’t over yet.

“She is not a police box, but rather a phone­ booth. Cherry red and passionate. And through her I’ve been connected to everyone and everything I love. Because even though my loved ones are always far away, I know they are always there. Perhaps that is why her circuits chose this form in the beginning: to keep me connected to the universe. My friend. My home. My Mercy.”

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