4: Alternative Facts: We Are the Grass

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind …
— Proverbs 11:29

You’ve finally found us. Or, rather, we’ve found you.

Don’t worry. You’re not in any trouble. It is good, however, to know that the Markers on the Interface — even still heavily divised — are working now. At least this Repolitik Cycle has done that much. What it also means, my friend, is that you’ve been asking the right queries.

Who are we? And there it is. You’ve proven my point.

Well, right now, we are a soup-kitsch. For the ethnos populii here. We’ve been a lot of things for different populii in Amarak throughout the different Cycles, really. We’ve been birth control kline, and hospice; scholastic collectives, and shelters; watchers, and volunteers. But today, we are a kitsch: for this ethnos.

I know that doesn’t explain much, or maybe it says too much. We didn’t make the soup-kitsch. That was all the Worker Party’s idea, if not always its executive, especially not here and … for them. I will speak plainly. I can see the way you look at these populii. They do not look like you. There are many ethnoi, even now, who don’t look like any of us. But they are still populii. They are us. And they still exist, no matter what the Repolitik states. As do we.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Mostly, I’ve told you everything that we are without specifics. The truth is, we’ve always existed in some way or form: though we didn’t always have a name. In fact, we’ve had several, so much so that it’s hard to give you one even now. Part of it, I think, is because we know one name is easy to Mark. Once, we wanted to be proud of that, before everything became more … practic, perhaps?

We called ourselves the Demos.

It’s true. Even though we ourselves have lost much information since the Interregnum, we do know that we came from the Demos. The way I know it, it happened at the beginning, right before the Disunity. The Demos has always been split at one time or another. But something happened, after the Forty-Fourth …

We have our own myths. A State can’t avoid that. And these are on our side of the Interface, in the little cells that we have maintained like embers through the Night Terror of Cycles. Our prompts, filled by our elders, tell us that we had become too arrogant, too … blind and naive in our old ways: seeing all just as it is. As it has always been.  Because of this, the Opposing grew like a weed, had been creeping amongst us and becoming common: right in plain sight. We thought we had reason. Information. Even the hearts of the populii and the elect. We grew complacent. We were select.

We grew … wrong.

The Opposing played on that wrongness. Their Pats, unlike ours, had unity. They’ve always had that power: to fight, and yet decide on one leader to the end. Their strength, and our weakness: our damnation. They played Festive. Panem et circenses. It isn’t anything new under the sun. Except this time … their bread was fear, and their joy, their party, was hate. And like any good festive, few took it seriously. Or worse, the populii were caught in the spectics of it. It’s easy to break something down. Fire is strong. Fire is hard to ignore. It makes you feel alive even when it kills you. Espec then. Espec when everything feels dry and dying around it. And their Pats only grow stronger from the flame, taking the air out of the populii. They always have.

The Opposing have as many names as we do. You can’t kill them. They are here, still. They didn’t die at the Freed Dome Trials, as the Repo Party, after the Disunity: the Disunity that was several disunities only becoming a Reunity even now.

The Repolitik doesn’t believe that. Or doesn’t want to. They think and glean and hope that they are gone, made into muck, like all the old hates and divisives: as they call all difference. The Opposing, in the form of the Repos, said they build bridges, though they burn them. The Repolitik of Amarak, under the Demos of this Cycle, say they want “Equality for all.”

But there is only one way for the living, and the dead to be equal.

The Repolitik think the Repos are dead. They think we are dead too.

When the Demos saw what the Opposing had done, what they were doing, a few of them made reunity. There was hope, according to the legends, that two of our Pats — the Power on the Hill, and the Queen of the Underground — would create that reunity between them, those ancient and strong Cis-Gen Fems, but it was just a hope. Just a dream. We thought perhaps the Great Burn could turn the youth to scourge the select and become elect across the Land again. But mostly, we fight … and it did not make us stronger.

It was what came after that which matters. Learning from the example of the Queen of the Underground, and the power of the Great Burn, that we needed to speak to the populii, not the Pats. But we had to become something more. We had to change from what we thought we were, into what we did: into what we were going to do.

We did the unthinkable. We also learned from the Opposing. But instead of the bread and spectics of hate, as the Demos Reunity, we knew we needed to talk to the needs of the populii, to that place of change. A space beyond words. We also needed the fire, not to destroy, but to create.

And we went forth: a Branch of the Demos, an Arm of Volunteers. We worked with the populii. We apologized for our arrogance. We tried to get to know them. We took our power and brought food, clothes, medicine. We made Co-ops and communes. We embraced what the Opposing hated. We appealed to our elect and made employs for them, for those without them. Most of us were the youth, the populii, though we have our own Pats and elders. We became visers, teachers, healers. We tried to listen. We still do.

And throughout it, we embraced the Way of Non-Vio: of the body and the mind, so that the Opposing’s actions would burn them away, as we took back the Body and the Soul of the Repolitik through deeds. The Demos called us a grassroots way. If the Opposing were the weeds, then we were not so much cells as the seeds of the Demos, the grass, that would fix and bring life back to Amarak.

It didn’t last.

When the Disunity and its disunities happened, we continued to aid the ethnoi in Amarak, and even beyond it. We even helped the Spectra: those still left in our lands that didn’t, or couldn’t join their Pride. Many of them were us: are us. But the Non-Vio way gave out to war. We offered help, but we did get blood in the grass. By the time of the Reunity, the Demos came out and executed the Repos, casting away the rest and claiming equality. Equality for all.

For a time we hunted as well as helped: tracking Repo war criminals, serving justice for the populii that could not get it. We were bloodied too. But then the Demos gave edict. We put down our Arms, like they wanted. We corporated on the surface. We helped form the Workers and the Independents, to make balance between what was once two-sided. The soup kitsches you see around Amarak were made by us, under the Workers: shelters for the populii offering food, learning, and aid. We were done. Corporated. They said we weren’t needed anymore.

The Repolitik claims it is a new Cycle. It is right in one way. It is another cycle of the same. You have seen it. You are seeing it even now. The Repolitik thinks the ethnoi, the Spectra, and others are already gone. Even those related to the Repos, or had affinity with them and the Nation and the “pure-borns” in the Borderlands. Victims and victimizers gone alike. They want it to remain that way. After all, how can someone go missing, or get beaten, or taken away, or starved, or remain as the lowest if they no longer exist? If they do not exist?

The Demos today grew from the bloody grass we’ve sown. For all we have Three Parties, we have only since had a Demos elect major in the Body, a Demos Precedent. They think they have destroyed the Opposing. But we know better. The Opposing was never just the Repos. The Demos have made Amarak into a place defined only by its absences. Seeing divising as the Enemy. But hey are also Split. Part wants to send our populii into the War and “help” the Spectra Pride. The rest are willing to blind eye the Cis-Trans War among the Spectra for themselves, decrying war and will only side when they can get what they want. Yet while Split, they are really not. Both want the same. They think the only way to stop conflict is to erase all divise. All difference. If it means using divise against divise and erasing them all afterwards, all the better.

As such, we are also Opposing: to this forced sterility. To this Ground Zero polity. To this Opposing to life. We learned: one person’s weed, is another’s plant.

We continue on. We always have. They have forgotten us, think we are gone, but it only suits our purposes. We will go on and help those that need us. The populii. We will protect the youth of Amarak. And we have decided that we will serve Amarak itself: not Party, not Repolitik, but the next Gen. We stay in the Body as much as we can, but we also still hold Arms when need be. We will make mistakes. We already have. Our relations with the Climbers from the Prides need work, but we will join them when we can. They are, in many ways, already a part of us.

And now we come full circle. You found us, or rather we found you again, when you were looking for words. Old words, once forbidden, and now forgotten. Equality itself is an old word, but that one is currently being misused. I have another one for you. There is a word that means fairness, justice, and treating people the way they deserve, as a natural right. It means giving someone what they deserve and knowing that being different isn’t bad, but something that sometimes has different needs. It is about respect and dignity.

It is called equity.

If you would like, I think with time, your differences could help us. You could help us. There is so much we can still learn from each other. And maybe, this time, we can plant the seeds of grass in the soil, the soul of Amarak, that might one day bring us true peace.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017

3: Alternative Facts: The Spectrum

I dream’d in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth; 
I dream’d that was the new City of Friends;
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love—it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.
— Walt Whitman “I Dream’d in a Dream,” Leaves of Grass

The Heterodoxy never made a Great Wall.

It’s true. Whatever the damn Interface tells you. The Wall didn’t crumble. It didn’t break. It wasn’t destroyed in the Disunity, nor by the Reunity they say happened after. Towards the start of the Interregnum, they said it was being made. Our Fore-Climbers saw it happening, said they saw the shadow of the writing on the ancient Stone stuck in the craw of all our hearts, and that’s why we left. The HetSocs say it was never there, and even if it was, it was never really about us, the Invisible Pride.

They’re all wrong, though. It’s all bullshit.

Something can’t be made, or born, or broken, or destroyed if it always exists.

I’m not being clear. It’s a bad habit, the kind you live when you’re a Binary, and you’re told there is no Wall, which distracts you from the many other walls that have always been here. The Interface will tell you something along the lines of the fact that we have three kinds of walls. It’s simple enough. The first keeps danger out, and everyone else safe inside. The second traps danger, and keeps everyone else outside it safe. The third type marks an area, a pissing contest, so that one side or another doesn’t try to go through, and do something stupid.

But that’s also bullshit.

Because there’s a fourth type of wall, one past the Three Ds, that’s really the only kind. Right before Reunity Day, the Repo Party got kicked out of the Heterodoxy all public: its goons humiliated by the Repolitik, its leaders executed for war crimes, its name banned from all polit-societas. “Hate Crimes,” is what the Three call them even now. Hate Speech is a part of them, and the “Hate Speech Accords” is what got the rest. We know. Though we left ages ago, driven out, killed, ground into hiding, the Spectra have always watched where we came from. To their dying breath, the Repos they got — cast on the Interface across the Land — always said they were just “building bridges.”

Walls are bridges. We make them to link the powerful together, and keep the powerless apart. And I say we for a reason.

A thousand years.

We eked it out, despite them. Found our own lands. The Joy, the Llang, the Meides, the Binary, the Newton Affinities, and espec the Trans-Gen and Gen-Que — even the Pans, flittering over the walls like Lost Kids — all of us different prides, having to live, and found ourselves a Co-Operative. The Rainbow Peoples, the Repos and the Heterodox call us. We aren’t that. We’re the Spectra. That’s what our Pride calls us. That’s what we’re supposed to be.

It’s what we were at the start. At the beginning. Several prides in reunity with the Pride. Our Pride. Some of us were Playing Sep, to ourselves, and others climbing and crawling through the walls of the Heterodox and their Speculars, and then the ruins of the Disunity, trying to help our fellow Spectra: those that couldn’t climb out, surrounding them, cutting into them, suffocating … Many still stuck behind those walls, even now.

And many more playing at Pride Reunity, like they’ve always done. Some innovating, like the greatest Joys, Newtons, and Trans-Gen, in intermingling, art-historia banished by the Heterodoxy to our benefit, aided by the riches of the Llangs and the Meides’ fury. And we live, even now, in Duals, Poly-Units, Faires … So much variety and life, many colours — the Spectra — in the darkness of the Interregnum, protecting, guiding others from the Interface, Reason, Haven, Safe Place, Utopia …

So excremental.

Long ago, long before the Interregnum, we were suffocating, separated, left to die by a Sickness. Making us Enemy in the system of the Heterodox. It wasn’t just a disease of the body, but a virus of the mind, an idea-sickness that spreads: called walls.

And we didn’t escape. It follows us still, tangling us, crushing us, strangling, biting: the Disunity culting it, each of the walls growing inside us a labrys, a maze trapping us from each other, a weapon that we use to scourge and kill each other with silence.

The Joys want to go back to the Heterodox. They want our Land. Our achievement. What we made, despite them. The Llangs, Playing Sep, agree. The Heterodox, Amarak — ruled by the Demos now and despite the other Two Parties — says it wants us back as part of the Reconstruct. They approp the designate of Trans-Gen. They say this new Cycle is beyond Gen, taking this word from us. They see Gen as new life or time, for this Cycle. We see it as ID. The Joy Kings, and Llang Queens want to give it them: ignoring the surrogates living among them, carrying their children in lieu of the mech-wooms that the Heterodoxy promises them.

As central members of the Pride of prides, they ignore the pleas of the Trans-Gen and the Gen-Que under attack from the borders, the edges of our walls. There have been Repo attacks from the Borderlands. There have always been Repo attacks. The Heterodox claims they are gone. That they are dead. Their Interface says so. But, as I said, something that always exists can never be dead. It can’t ever be gone. And why should we believe the Interface: it has ever been divided by those same walls since the Interregnum, only fully open to the powerful, sectioned against the powerless.

The Heterodox know about the Repos, or they are blind to them. They are still here in this Cycle. The Joys and Llangs, most of the Meides that never considered the rest of us “pure” enough, by their ID of Mas or Fem, let us take the brunt of it. The Repos still use the Heterodox, turning the Joys, Llangs, and the Meides majority against us. The Demos, when still not fighting itself, only wants to help the Spectrum when it suits them — like taking our Land or innovates — or say and do nothing when it doesn’t. The other Parties just do nothing. They always will. And the Spectrum? They want to fit into the Heterodox, throwing us under, those that can’t fit in: that don’t want to: making Poly into Ploy, and Faire made Foul. No longer Spectra. No longer Fam. If we ever were.

But now, we fight back.

They call it the Cis-Trans War. All because Trans-Gen want to keep their ID, Gen-Que want to remain explorers, Is want to exist, and we — Binaries — are tired of being called “wall-sitters,” traitors, when the others are willing Play HetSoc, to sell us out for their piece of the Spectra, their pound of flesh. Some Joys and Llangs, and Newtons are with us. Even some Heterodox. This so-called War? We want to do more than Play Sep. The Heterodox have an Independent Party? This is our independence!

I can’t speak for the Trans-Gen, treated worse than us. Once, we all interlapped. We had that potential. We still do. The walls were thinner. We could hear the promises of love over the tyrannies of HetSoc silence. The truth is that our walls are all paths swollen by infection, soft divisions between us, once the foundation of homes and experience, but now they are gates, prisons, and tombs for our souls. And Binaries have hidden deeper in these than most.

And that is why we will win. We can be on both sides, slowly guiding, hiding in plain sight. We have always been the Invisible Pride, the unseen among the unseen. The Heterodox think we don’t exist, or we’re long gone. The same with our so-called Spectra. I can’t speak for the others of the Gens, or the different Affinities, but it’s my hope that we make our own Pride: a Pan-Binary Pride including all. I do not feel like Spectra. I am not a ghost. Neither are the Repos, my enemies. And certainly not the Heterodox, still haunted, infected by walls, that think they are beyond Gen. Beyond sin.

That is why I do this. That is why I travel the zig-zag paths of walls. Because I hope to show them. Gens and Affinities. I want to show them the truth. For just as walls have always existed, just we always have, so too have other places, so too have other paths …

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017.

2: Alternative Facts: Freedom

“We are what we pretend to be …”
— Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

It’s finally time that you know the truth. You’ve earned it.

Not many make it to this point. The Nation’s still filled with anger, and they make for easy targets. The Gilder Booms burn bright in the night of our land with the hallowed armaments, and fall just as quick to the Usurpers.

We are the Elders of the Hidden Festive. We see like the Sacred Bird’s Eye above us. Our backs are clad with the mantles of blood wearing the holy sky. And like the Beast that shelters us, under the blessing of the Lohim, we never forget. And we glean. We glean the thunder and lightning hiding between the stars. But you have found the zigzag path, hidden in the Arns among the Three Usurpers.

Come and place the four pennies, and seven cards. They are the lesson, in your hand. You win with them. Four pennies to feed the hungry, and bring up the low — proving the worth of earning one’s keep — and seven cards to reveal one truth that we know. Speak the sacred, forbidden names. We do not burn bridges.

We build them.

The Lye Laws of the Usurpers, backed by the Arns that left us, claiming us children of hate, scourged us from the Land, poisoning our seemings to the Folk, and naming murder justice, and exile mercy. Here they think we fight against our skins, and members, the weak and the strong, the old and the young. It is Lye.

It is the least of what they have done to us.

You recall the glories of our Repolitik. How we bridged the gap between Mas and Fem on the Sacred Script. How we brought colleges together against the Demos Schisms. How we tried to bring Reunity to Heaven and Earth, Folk and Lohim. We even sent a Champion to answer the Harbinger of the Twisted Cross in the State that dared seek power in a ritual of bare bodies and false gods.

It wasn’t just that the Usurpers tainted us in the gleanings of the Folk. They erased us. And now, we will tell you of their greatest crime. Even the most fierce of the Young do not know this. But it is time that you know the source of our shame. And our power.

Pass under the Beast and walk the steps to the white throne of our Lohim, and see His grace. His power. This is the secret of the Secret Party, the Celebration of True Freedom. He guided us as we freed the slaves. As we ended the First Disunity. These are the heights from where we fell, when the Usurpers killed us, when they drove us to the Borderlands, lumping us into the squalor of the broken, the inbred, thieves and traitors. Of trash. This is the power of Lye: that we are all the same.

But the smear of Lye has become our own hallowed armament, as you well know. And even trash has its purpose. The Baggers the Usurpers think we are hunt and gather the best of what we need,  exercising the weak from the strong, making the Traitors think we kill one another, whittling ourselves down, collecting our heat to serve to ignite the flame that they will one day burn them all down. Gilder Booms remind them of the fury of the Disunities they made, defending ourselves against Death to the very end with hallowed armaments. They serve, tall and proud, to make the Usurpers remember the Old Battles. We use their Night Terror of us against them, to blind any new gleanings.

And the Wags wander Amarak, Masking themselves as the broken, loud, proud, and testing the crowd: letting themselves be silenced so we can all be revenged.

For you have ever been one of our Speculars, hiding in the Usurper Festives and waiting. The War with the godless Rainbow Peoples has distracted the Usurpers now, splitting the Demos again. Our time is almost here. The Liberator will soon be remembered. The Arns of the Workers and the Rebel Festives still remain with us. The trunk of our Guardian Beast snakes into the cracks of the Interface, past its ancient garden walls, and watering the forbidden fruits that will become the Apple Seed. And that harvest will come through you, child, and the Speculars around the Interface: our Eagle Eyes among them.

Yet you will not embrace not the Lohim Mask of the Liberator, or the Bear before that time. But you will continue to hold the aspect of the Actor among their ranks. You will let us in through the fences and the walls. And then close the doors and lock behind us. The Fire that was once Rebellion is the real power that keeps us together, the Fire come hate, giving us our own Reunity. We are the Realpolitik of Amarak. And though the Usurpers call us Repos, it is we — it is you — who will gather them, for we have come to collect. This is the final truth.

Freedom always has its price. And it can only be earned.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017

1: Alternative Facts: Lost Words

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive …
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”

I was just trying to find a word.

It’s for a narrative I’m programming taking place in an earlier part of the Pre-Interregnum Period. To be honest, this isn’t part of my profession. Even now, it’s still a vanity project that my mainline studies at the Freed Dome Collective assists with from time to time. It’s been over a thousand years since the Interregnum that ultimately made this Cycle of the Repolitik of Amarak, and the Interface still isn’t fully updated from the stratification, fragmentation, and Shutdown of its predecessor.

There are clues, however. I’m no scholar, reconstructing the works of our past, but a student taking advantage of the bits and pieces that I come across surveying the immensity of the growing Interface. As I said, the scenario I’m attempting to memetically graft and reconstruct happened long ago in our State’s historia.

It isn’t much, I’m afraid. Just a game of random chance: a re-image of a group playing cards at a saloon right before the First Great Disunity. I’m still trying to figure out how their game works, but I have the basics down. Eventually, one of them wins with a particular card used at a certain time. It had a name.

The Interface didn’t know it. I called up all Pre-Interregnum lexicons. I had a basic prompt. I was looking for one word like “winning” or “victory.” Something like a “winning hand” or “winning card,” even “higher piece.” I thought the Interface wasn’t approxing right searching the lexicons. Then I saw it. The lexicons weren’t all fragments. Some of them had other words.

But they were blanked out.

It recalled something a teacher told us. I visualized the right historia tab and its Record, something I marked for later. Amarak hasn’t always been this peaceful. It’s hard to see it when you look at the Freed Dome and its Collective: whole circular layers of self-sustaining greenhouse biomes for students, scholars, and travelers. In fact, it hasn’t always been one State either. It used to be several, sometimes against each other. Different States and scattered Cycles, especially during the Interregnum. A Dark Age.

I knew this already, as much as anyone. But I recalled the lecture about, of all things, pennies. They are just as important as terminologies behind playing cards, which is to say not at all. According to our teacher, before the beginning of this Cycle and the founding of the Three-Faction System, certain nouns, verbs, and adjectives were marked as something called “Hate Speech Designates,” made during the Hate Speech Accords. They were banned from the lexicons. Our teacher actually called them “Lost Words.”

But then I recalled that before the Reconstruct Period, and even now, there are still people that transmit information orally: through verbal exchanges and stories. The Recorders would know, of which my teacher was one. The extract I pulled up talked about an older plural form word for pennies, a minor form of copper currency that has another context in surviving pockets of Repos. It’s odd, given how it was once used in older literary texts. I wondered if this was somehow linked to the word I was looking for.

I looked some more … and I found it.

It’s a strange word. I was close. And it is definitely a Hate Speech Accord Designate. As to why …

It’s linked to the Repos, again. I didn’t know why. They’ve always been on the fringes of Amarak I can recall, still believing in outdated concepts of “race” and “pure-born” statuses. Little more than a sub-cult of hate. But our teacher believed they didn’t make these words themselves. They got them from somewhere else, but they gradually gained different meanings in new environs, becoming linked to this group.

And it just became one mnemonic chain after another. It turns out the word — this short, blunt, brutal word — came to real prominence during what was the end of Amarak’s Forty-Fourth Precedent. According to scattered accounts, before the Disunity Amarak was suffering from a loss of material distribution, and inequality. Apparently, the Repos had been a legitimate politic-faction then along with the pre-Demos. They even had Precedents of their own, which is utterly amazing to me. But the extracts say at the end of CE, they fed too much into the tension in the State while the pre-Demos were too divided. Their last Precedent, the Forty-Fourth, attempted Reform. But then the Disunity happened, and the Interregnum. I wanted to see if there was a Precedent after the Forty-Fourth.

But according to the Records, there was no Precedent. Only the Interregnum: with accounts of escalating atrocities, and finally the Reunity in thanks to an alliance between the Demos, the Workers Faction, and the Independence Party. It’s believed, according to some accounts on the Interface, that surviving “moderate Repos” of that time — surely a contradiction in terms — either joined the Demos, formed the Workers, or even the Independents.

Yet by this point, more focus was on the establishment of the popular vote system, replacing one of representatives, than on the past, except for an interesting anecdote about Freed Dome itself. It was created and renamed during the early days of Reunity. It was also apparently built on the site of a property that belonged to another dynasty: their name also stricken, and then lost to time. It was dedicated to the loss of life and dignity experienced by Affirmation Groups: minorities, special needs, resident visitors, and the dispossessed. You can see it in the gardens here that many survivors, and their descendants built. It was seized and re-purposed by the Amarak Repolitik as a living memorial, and the first biome of its kind: to house and give purpose to those in need.

But right. Back to the word. I’m not sure that I’m going to use it. To be honest, I just can’t understand the context where it would work. For example, just how can you love someone’s hate?

Still, this whole search for Lost Words gives me inspiration for my narrative. At the end of the card game, I’m just going to have the dealer win. It won’t be about skill, or chance, or even luck. The game is rigged. “House always wins,” is what they used to say. Especially a broken one. But I got to learn, again, that Freed Dome really is a beautiful home, more than I even thought possible. It comes from an older word too and, honestly, when I look into my own mindscape I realize now more than ever that I’d rather be free than triumphant any day.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017

A Traveler’s Account of Katrina Elisse Caudle’s Darkmoon City

On the surface, Twine is about making games. But that is just one way of looking at it. To be more specific, Twine software allows one to hyperlink from one page or another through the click of a word. Words link together different pages and, ultimately, different ideas. Now, take that bare-bones concept and link together not only Twine narratives, but short stories and real time events. Essentially, in doing so, you would be creating a reality from multimedia.

Someone at the Toronto Global Game Jam made this suggestion to me after I showed him the Twine game I made at that particular event. However, what he didn’t realize is that others have already thought of this idea, and have utilized it.

In creating Darkmoon City, Katrina Elisse Caudle is one of these people.

I am not entirely sure how I found Darkmoon City, back when it was called Faerie Dark and focused more on its own content and less on outside activities. Katrina’s site itself has evolved quite a bit. At one time it was a textured grey interface in which you had to input the names of the Twines or stories that you wanted to see in a search bar. It was arranged in such a way that inputting the title of the work was a lot like participating in an agreed-upon ritual or the casting of a particular spell or evocation that would interact with the world of words and code that Katrina embedded into that world. I will admit that sometimes it confused me and it was hard to search for what I wanted back then. I even had the odd error or two. But, eventually, I “said” the words and found a part of her world.

At the time, there was only one Twine game: one interactive hyperlinking story. It was, and is The Edyn Project. I played this game during a time when I was still beginning to figure out how Twine games worked and attempted to see the different kinds and qualities of such that existed. Essentially, you find yourself in the White City: the former seat of arcane learning before the plague that wiped magic, and a good portion of the global population, off the face of the earth. The Edyn Project is an attempt by various powers to utilize technology in order to create a utopia from a Dark Age.

It was here that I began to see a different world-view emerging: especially with regards to how the White City’s new bitcoin economy is supposed to function. To this day I’m still confused about bitcoin, but the game did succeed in introducing me to the layout of the City and some of its history: including the presence of an ambiguous artificial intelligence program guardian named Edyn. I didn’t know, then, that the game wasn’t completed yet and indeed I reached a point where I didn’t know what else to do and got caught in a looped event at one point when going back to deal with my character’s blood work.

I really got to know the world of the White City through its short stories. Liminal Creatures of Heaven depicted something of a creation mythos and a different cosmogony from that of our own solar system. It even has its own astrological charts and celestial cycles.

But it wasn’t until The City With No Animals that the spirit of what would become Darkmoon City really began to slowly and subtly set into my mind.

Imagine a world where animals no longer exist: to the point of them becoming legends and myth. Now imagine a world where homosexual, bisexual, queer and polyamorous relationships are not only seen as commonplace but as part of an unquestioned norm. Then consider a place where there are more than two kinds of gender, where people can alter themselves in an almost transhuman sense, all of this is an ingrained and understood part of that world as well. The pronouns of he, she, and they are simply there in sentence and conversation. Now add to the fact that magic once existed and is in the process of being replaced (or complemented) by science and technology of questionable nature and a new bitcoin economy while the vestiges of the supernatural remain as ghosts, and faeries, and other things.

Now imagine writing this world with characters that experience varying degrees of emotions while exploring old and new secrets, and each other. You would basically be creating a whole other kind of paradigm or mentality from our own world. Katrina basically does all of this. It takes some getting used to and sometimes there is even still a bit of culture shock, but once you watch the characters’ interactions with the world and each other you begin to focus on them a lot. What I really loved about “The City With No Animals” is the fact that Katrina captures well that feeling of sweet confusion when you are discovered by those you know are special and could be, or might not lovers even as she also depicts the warmth of intimacy between childhood friends. “The City With No Animals” is a long story of four-parts, it has a unique writing style, and it is definitely worth reading.

I said a whole lot of other things about this story to Katrina herself, but unfortunately much of this correspondence was lost and now I can only focus on my impressions of what I read from that time. Indeed, Katrina changed the layout and name of the site from Faerie Dark to Darkmoon City. I’m not sure if she reloaded all of the older stories that I can’t recall, but she did add some newer elements to the new layout that she has created.

In addition to another interactive Twine called Happy Birthday Smoke!–in which you play as a character from “The Edyn Project” who is discovering her uncle’s creation of bitcoin and thus giving you a tutorial into what it is for the very first time–there are the addition of more creation myths and legends in the form of new stories.

I mentioned earlier that Katrina has a very unique writing style. I think what really stands out for me is in addition to a world with different ideas of gender, economy, science and magic, there is this very fascinating blend of Far East Asian and ancient Western culture, philosophy and mythology that exists in her overarching, and interlinking, narrative. If each world of fantasy and science-fiction is part of a multifaceted lens looking at an alternative perspective of reality, then Katrina’s world of Darkmoon City feels like a pale violet-tinted part of the cosmological kaleidoscope. Her language and sense of pacing are languid, flowing, and beautiful: and they put you into an “alien” and external mindset intimately and to the point where you realize it may not be that dissimilar from your own.

There is one more thing I want to mention before I wrap this retrospective up. A little while ago, while Faerie Dark existed, Katrina had another Twine game called Chrysalis. There were a few interesting elements about this game. First of all, and as far as I know, it was the only game that required payment: the small amount of $2.99. Secondly, it was a Twine that incorporated images and audio into its structure. But the third and most important element that I want to look at is what the about was about.

Essentially, Chrysalis was a Twine game in which you visit a courtesan named Rabbit. Its premise is almost an answer to the questions that the Canadian comics creator Chester Brown seems to pose in his graphic novel Paying For It: what kind of world would result from the creation of a society without the stigma of paying for sex, or even on non-conventional relationships? What kind of morality would exist where an exchange of services for intimacy and learning is condoned, honoured, and even encouraged as healthy?

You had to progress by learning various lessons through interaction with Rabbit. Should you have not been interested or wanted to skip ahead, you were always invited to leave if the terms no longer suited you, or if you could not follow or respect them. I didn’t always understand the astrological elements within the game itself which, may or may not have made Chrysalis into part of Faerie Dark (or Darkmoon City now) or as a standalone in and of itself. Sometimes the audio did not work and it did verge into some specific areas of sacred sex and spirituality. Sometimes the audio segments seemed long as well. But what really struck me about that game, aside from being a creative attempt to depict a different form of society where sex work is an inherent part of the culture and you learn about intimacy, sensuality and just what constitutes as an important exchange between consenting adults, as well as navigating the places between different emotions and a process of personal growth, is how Katrina applied her own experiences and the paradigm of her creative world, and bitcoin, to the scenario of Chrysalis.

It was not an explicit game, but it was definitely a very involved and thoughtful meditation on pleasure. Sadly, my words aren’t doing this game any justice as I can no longer access this game. It came in the form of a code I purchased for Faerie Dark‘s search bar that now no longer exists. All that is left are Katrina’s above account and ethereal fragments of audio to give you some idea of what this game was like. But it, and the other stories, were an excellent look into the creative mind and imagination of Katrina and what could be.

Darkmoon City is still very much a work in progress, with its own Patreon page, and as a fellow traveller into the realms of fancy, I look forward to walking where the White City journeys from this particular foundation.

What Is a Doctor and When Does He Stop Running?

All right, so relatively soon–on November 23rd–we are going to see “The Day of the Doctor”: in which we not only find out why the Eleventh Doctor Regenerates into the Twelfth–which seems a lot less ominous now that the Time Lord Regeneration limit seems arbitrary and limited to the now-defunct Time Lord society–but we will also find out more about The Unknown Doctor.

Or maybe won’t.

I don’t really know what else to say without subscribing to a certain supposition about who this version of The Doctor–played by John Hurt–is supposed to be. So I’m going to subscribe to one of them: mainly that our friend The Unknown Doctor is from the Last Great Time War: the incarnation that utilized The Moment to exterminate both the Daleks and his fellow Time Lords and pretty much save the Universe.

There are some interesting details that could back this up. Aside from the fact that he clearly did something that he regretted, but was ultimately necessary–at least from his perspective–and that he had no choice there is the matter of the fact that Clara wasn’t even with him in this time line. Remember, you Doctor Who fans out there, the Time War was time-locked: keeping certain forces from using, or being propelled by time travel into the battlefield such as it may have been. That is why I think Clara Oswin Oswald never met The Doctor then, or traveled with him: because this field would have, by its very nature, kept her very existence out or destroyed her along with the others: and perhaps removed that knowledge from Clara herself.

But if we operate on the assumption that The Unknown Doctor was the one that either Regenerated during the Great Time War or aged from the Eighth Doctor due to possible time-dilation within the sphere of the time-lock and the sheer horrors of temporal war, it just makes the Eleventh Doctor’s judgment (and those before him) of his previous incarnation–his “secret”–all the more unforgivable.

He not only claims that The Unknown Doctor is not worthy of the moniker–the promise that he and other incarnations of the same man made to the Universe and himself–but that all of his actions, whatever they were, were “not in the name of The Doctor.”

And this is where I take issue with The Doctor’s idea of what a doctor actually is. Despite the fact that the Time Lord has no medical degrees, as far as we know of and perhaps has some haphazard scholarly qualifications (at least by his own people’s standards) from his Time Lord Academy days, he is a healer in that he tries to fix problems and “meddle” in pockets of time that aren’t “fixed.” He sees time, like most Time Lords, as a flowing current with some static and fixed places: like a stream coursing around some pebbles. He likes to re-align things back into, or really into a pattern that makes sense.

But here is the thing. You see, if The Unknown Doctor did develop during the Great Time War, then he knew what was at stake. The Daleks would have exterminated all life in the Universe if they had become the new Lords of Time. The Time Lords themselves decided they were going to ascend into beings of pure energy and obliterate the current Universe to do so. Essentially, both species were–or had become–like mad dogs and any good doctor understands that sometimes the only sane medicine at that point is euthanasia.

Does that mean that he should be proud of it? I don’t think so: though we know that he is not adverse to admitting and even using the fact that he killed both Daleks and Time Lords to his advantage when the situation arises. He has even admitted his role to his Companions to some extent. Perhaps he thinks that his previous incarnation should have tried harder, or should not have been suckered into the War–a war by the very nature of war being a situation where no one really wins–and should have done something different. Or perhaps, Doctor Eleven just hates himself: like his other incarnations tend to do whenever they think back on times that they can’t deal with.

But when it came to it: when it came down to the Daleks destroying all life, the Time Lords obliterating all Creation for their benefit, or giving everyone else in the Universe a chance: there really was no other choice.

The fact is, even though he admits The Unknown Doctor is him but not The Doctor, it’s almost like he is displacing all the blame for something onto this man and trying to forget that he ever existed. The mere fact that this incarnation of him is referred to as The Unknown Doctor speaks volumes about the truth that The Doctor has been running away from the entire time.

But now, after looking at John Hurt turn around with an old, haunted and very sad expression on his face that belies him being the villainous Valeyard or something else–perhaps serving as the guardian against any psychic vestige of the Time War infecting the reality outside of the time-lock (which The Doctor may have jeopardized by delving into paradox itself by going into his time-stream) and with the credits under him proclaiming him to be what the Eleventh Doctor says he is not, The Doctor himself–having crossed into his own time-stream–has to face what and who he has been trying to escape from and finally be forced to do what he has been fearing the most.

To stop running.

The Death of *Silence: Hate Plus and The World of Christine Love Confirmed

What is better than hate?

The answer is more hate.

Hate Plus is the sequel to Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story: a visual novel and video game in which you, as “a space investigator” must recover the records of a lost 25th century Korean generation ship called the Mugunghwa and figure out what happened to its colonists and their descendants. This is not the first time I’ve talked about Analogue or the world that it inhabits so, if you’d like and if you are not afraid of spoilers please look at my article This Love and This Hate Ain’t Completely My Story: The Possible World of Christine Love.

I have been waiting for this game for a long time, though obviously not as long as certain characters on the Mugunghwa have been, and I want to get into its structure, the elements of its world, and the story line.

So here is the nitty-gritty of Hate Plus‘ game interface from my own personal experience. I’m actually glad that I went back and played Analogue for a while during this time in order to remind myself of its game-play interactive qualities. In Analogue, you had to go through various journal entries and click on the figure of the AI next to you to get more information or her opinion. You also had a very confusing Family Tree of characters to look at with names that often got confusing. It is important to note that some Far East Asian cultures place their surnames before their first ones and it explains a lot culturally with regards to Analogue and Hate Plus and how the societies depicted within them function. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In contrast to Analogue, in Hate Plus the AI is more active and has a certain degree of limited animation. They basically read over your shoulder and make comments as you scroll along: as you scroll along very, very slowly. You do have to be careful though: because if you read too fast, the AI’s comments will be lost seemingly forever into an ethereal digital void of, well, scrolling too damned fast. There are names in the documents that you click on and get more information with each entry that you read. The files that you extract are better organized and you have dossiers on–and profile pictures of–each person that you read about. In some ways, it is a lot harder than Analogue. I imagine that the slow-scrolling simulates sifting through the files you’ve compiled from an ancient ship. At the very least this time around you don’t have to input technical commands into a DOS-like–pardon the pun–analog program: which confused and frustrated me to no end.

That said there are some really interesting goodies and special touches to the game structure that only Christine, at least from what little I’ve played, can accomplish with her style. While Christine utilized a form of code that transfers information from her other games that you’ve played to make some “Easter-egg” moments between them, she uses this same process to take your Save Files, if you have them, from Analogue and translate over to Hate Plus. She creates that almost very personal feeling of continuity and that, in itself, is something that I greatly appreciate.

In addition, depending on what Saved File you use, the introduction screen changes colour and when you finish a story arc, the end credits music becomes the introductory music for a while: which really gives you a sense of difference with each playthrough. There is also one other difference between Analogue and its sequel. Unlike the former, which you can download off of Christine’s site Love Conquers All games and Steam, you can only download and play Hate Plus from Steam itself: mainly because that is the only place it’s available from and perhaps the only way to facilitate the Achievements that you get to unlock in addition to the different Endings that are just extensions of your Saved Files from Analogue. This game does not save the retrieved files and timelines you sifted through outside of the AI interaction such as in the other game, nor does it have an extra material section as far as I can see, but the Achievements in themselves and the interactive dynamics that Christine has implemented are … different.

Let me be more specific: if Analogue felt like essentially interacting with a program, Hate Plus is an attempt at a realistic interaction with another sentient being and time. This pacing is actually pretty refreshing and while with anyone else it might threaten to take you out of immersion, in this case it just adds a barely meta-narrative feel to it and at the most it adds personality: a very fascinating experiment in player on and offline participation and interaction. It might take you aback at first, but it’s worth it.

I should also note that you can play this game without having played Analogue or saved your files. The game will just give you an intro recap and a simple Quiz and you’re off. But personally, and as I said, I liked the continuity of using my old files from the previous game.

So now we go past the technical and into the more specific area of content: of the world. And here is where I go into Spoilers: real Spoilers. So please, if you have read this far and you want to play one or both games, save this article link somewhere, click on the links to Christine’s site above, download the game for $10, take the time that you will need, and then come back. Do not say I didn’t warn you.

Now then: the world of Christine Love. If you read the link to my previous post about “Christine Love’s Possible World,” you probably realize by now that it is less possible as it is more probable and true that all her games–at least the ones I talked about in that article–take place in the same world as time goes on. I always suspected this but it was only confirmed when, in this game, she added that missing link: when you receive an email in your message box talking about exploring the ruins of the 23rd Century Lake City. That addition made me smile: not just because it gave me some feeling of vindication in my statements, but because of just that one segment of a post adding this seamless transition between Digital: A Love Story, don’t take it personally babe this ain’t your story and Analogue. What it is, is it’s both immaculate and it’s beautiful. Fucking. Beautiful.

It also doesn’t stop there. You find out a bit more about Earth and how advanced it has become. In addition to me realizing that the reason AI have such difficult times replicating themselves is due to limitations imposed due to *Mother and the terrifying consequences of *Reaper in Digital in the 1980s, I also got to see that AI interactions have changed even more. Essentially, Earth technology has evolved to the point where AI programs can be downloaded into customized lifelike humanoid bodies. This totally slapped me in the face with surprise, but it was a good kind of slap as I realized what it meant for you to have received this email–from the very familiar household name of Wong Robotics (which is a nice parallel to the email you first get from what seems to be its predecessor Wong Computers in Digital: A Love Story and another world tie-in) and what you were probably searching for with regards to your AI companion.

These discoveries make me wonder about something. You discover that *Mute–the Mugunghwa‘s Security AI–is actually over 1600 years old (about 1900 years old): though she can only remember about 300 years of her history or so after that time. You realize later that this was due to … another incident. Now, think about this. On Earth, in this time of the year 4989, over two thousand years after the disappearance and disaster of the Mugunghwa, there have been AI existing and living on Earth. It makes you wonder if some of the programs from the 70s onward still exist at this point. Imagine a series of millennia-old intelligences on Earth and think about how they could have influenced everything. You also get an idea that really old AI tend to slow down because they have too much information to process, but if they specialize in different areas over time and diversify they can adapt both functionally and psychologically. Christine makes a very eerily familiar vintage science-fiction reference to this regard.

And all this makes me wonder just what kind of society her Earth is at this point and, if the technology *Hyun-ae’s eccentric father–the technology that can download human brain-waves and convert them into an AI psyche–is already commonplace in this world. Talk about a potential Ghost in the Shell. Anyway, enough geeking around on my part. Everyone appreciates a good science-fictional world as much as the next person. Let’s talk about the story.

So in the last game, you spend the time trying to figure out what happened to the Mugunghwa and why it never reached its destination. You find out why the colonists’ descendants died and what happened to their society. But you never knew why it happened.

Until now.

Whereas, Analogue is arguably *Hyun-ae’s story, Hate Plus is definitely the story of *Mute. *Mute is a complex character. She believes in the Neo-Confucian ideals of the society that evolved–or degenerated–on the Mugunghwa: including an over-emphasis on the importance of familial duty and traditional gender roles. She supported the monarchy that came into power and Chinese-character literacy given only to the noble families. At the same time, despite her vehement protests towards anything “untoward” like homosexuality between women–which makes her almost a more compassionate version of don’t take it personally babe, but it just ain’t your story‘s Taylor (though the character Oh-Euna might be more like her in terms of fucked up)–*Mute is still a decent person that wants to protect her ship and the people in it. She also does not tolerate cruelty and she has cared for people throughout the years and even though she might judge them and say some offensive things–and always speak her mind in some form or another–she never has consciously attempted to hurt another person, always tried to help and always remained loyal.

In the first game she comes off as abrasive, though you understand that she hates herself because failed to save the people and way of life she was programmed to protect. She also does not seem to tolerate the unorthodox: though I always filed this under “Milady doth protest too much.” And in many ways, I was right. But deep down, there was the theme of the game that I had to keep remembering.

Hate.

And *Mute, with her anger towards female homosexuality and her chauvinistic comments towards women and even the feminine identity she adopted, portrays this self-loathing that I had not seen clearly before. At first, it seems very clear that she isn’t conscious of it either. In fact, *Mute in at least two of her incarnations seems to really not pay attention to details: or, at least, not the right ones.

Then you find out that her previous incarnation, the one that had existed for 1600 years, left some embedded code in her: with files from before the Neo-Confucian dynasty. And this is where your adventure begins.

This is also the part where the game really explores the concept of transhumanism. For instance, *Mute is a reboot of *Old Mute and *Hyun-ae is an AI taken from the code of *Mute. In essence, both AI are descended, code-wise, from *Old Mute. But whereas *Hyun-ae believes she is the human that had her consciousness downloaded ages ago, *Mute is another version of another being. And there are two versions of *Mute.

They are almost two people with similar qualities. *Old Mute was the Security Councillor of the ship that was more assertive and viewed all the people on it as her children: though the Heo Family more than anyone else. She was not afraid to talk to men as equals or politick when the need set in. She was old enough to remember when banditry and civil war wracked the ship and saw the death of the navigation AI *Star: which is the reason why the ship never reached its destination to begin with. *Old Mute was at the very core of her programming a security AI that sought stability and the preservation of life. Unfortunately, she did not see this in what may have been–to her–the unstable mob-mentality of the various pro-democracy movements racking the ship throughout the years.

She, through her adopted Heo Security Family and her seat on the Council of the Mugunghwa maintained something of an oligarchy throughout the centuries and either allowed for the creation of peasant or “commoner” and noble classes, or maintained that tradition. Perhaps these families were the descendants of the workers and ship staff respectively. Perhaps a “middle-class” got co-opted by the nobility or the commoners there did not seem to be a differentiation between peasants and vendor merchants. Maybe that is why the “Bureaucrat Class Act” passed: to seemingly “deal” with this problem. We will never really know and can only speculate. Unfortunately, she was so set on sabotaging an emerging pro-democratic figure that she didn’t see the danger in the so-called figurehead that she helped place on the Council due to her wanting affect the appearance of change to quell the masses and maintain a safe status quo.

In the end, it cost her. It didn’t have to. She was the ship’s Security AI. She could have monitored those in power far more closely: including and especially those she had placed there. But as she put it; she had so much data through existing for “far too long” at the time that sometimes the minutiae of various events escaped her. Personally, I think that she should have “vetoed” the usurper and his whole Council out of a sudden airlock. She could have created a democratic structure from the very beginning and rigged all the ballots to maintain her idea of order. After all, from what I understand, she already had most if not all of the power and even though she started out as a Security Program, she clearly proved that she could adapt over time like any intelligence can. Unfortunately, or fortunately, if *Old Mute had an understanding of Asimov’s Three-Laws of Robotics, her interpretation of it: of letting her memories get erased so that she could survive, of her own self-preservation for the duty of the ship being more important than the quality of life for the people she swore to protect–for not ending certain beings’ lives for the greater good of the whole of humanity around her–cost her.

And in the end it costs *Mute as well. I was so … sad and angry when *Mute decided to deactivate herself. I felt as though she had abandoned me and took pretty much the coward’s way out. She could not face what her predecessor, or what her previous self, had done. And as for me: despite her brusque manner and prickly nature and weird fascination with what boys do in their recreational time together, her “death” hit me hard because she was a good person.

That was when I found the third *Mute: *New Mute. This one did not make herself look old and silver-haired like *Old Mute or garb herself in the traditional hanbok like *Mute, but she had her security uniform and genuinely wanted to know and learn from her predecessors: her previous selves. I eventually took on myself to show her everything that the others had given and seen. If the first *Mute was the Old Kingdom, and the one I knew had been The Middle Kingdom, then this *Mute was a New Kingdom who, eventually and unlike *Mute who couldn’t face her transition from *Old Mute admits that they were all her. I actually liked this *New Mute, but *Mute’s self-deactivation actually broke my heart.

I will admit that when I played from my Harem Route Analogue Saved File, there was one part that made me really catch my breath and tear-up when after one of *Mute’s homophobic tirades,  *Hyun-ae tells her something to the effect of, “You really don’t think you are lovable?” It hit me so hard: almost as much as it did *Mute.

My poor mass-murderer and my authoritarian with good intentions. One of them condemned many to death for the horrible crimes of a few and the other condemned many to social and cultural slavery and barbarism for the chance that everyone lived. “Those who trade away freedom for safety deserve neither,” or “Give me liberty or give me death.” I guess, in the end both of these paraphrases came true. I loved and felt for them so much after all of this.

There is one more thing that I want to write about with regards to Hate Plus. So I found the list of Achievements and saw that there was one for playing through *Mute’s Route as a female. My friend Angela O’Hara had played Analogue as a female and told me that she had had a very different interaction with *Mute than I had: having played as a male. So I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

I replayed Analogue as a female persona and I noticed *Mute’s interactions with me had changed. She was still mostly grateful and respectful of me, but she would ask what an “unmarried woman like me was doing all alone doing a man’s work” and “not troubling me with the details of matters.” She even made pointed remarks about my orientation towards other women or being permissive of it. In Hate Plus, as you imagine, she got worse. She would skim details at times and “take charge” and took it on herself to call herself “my wife” while still “protesting too, too much” about how “icky” female love was. She called me “a stupid bitch” at one point and I admit I called her “a chauvinistic bitch” at another point. I still cared about her and I tried to be patient but it was different.

At the same time, when *Mute did reboot, *New Mute had a lot more to say about some of the letters and transcripts–particularly the ones with the female relationships–that we found in her base code than she had when I played as a male. She also, and this might just be me, seemed to relate to me more as a female in this incarnation and seemed more open to the possibility of being my companion: if not my wife.

And even before I did this, I saw the chauvinism and misogyny that would bloom into the Mugunghwa‘s Neo-Confucian dynasty. I saw what Kim So-Yi had to put up with from her boss and the assistant that violated her: making her feel compelled to say nothing to anyone about it and just like our time unfortunately. I saw that the Ruling Council only had two women on it: one of them being *Old Mute and got to see her gradually lose her voice and see her opinions get ignored under the New Council. I saw the policies of the new regime culturally influencing Mugunghwa society and forcing non-heterosexual relationships underground and even breaking some of them. I saw two women who had jobs and were relatively independent people become kept-women and courtesans. I saw one woman who could have saved the whole population of the Mugunghwa from decreasing birthrates lose her job and her former assistant try to take advantage of that fact with blackmail.

I saw how the emerging political system took advantage of the knowledge of these declining birthrates to make women stay at home and raise children. I respected the unorthodox, alternate-living and loving Heo Family members and grieved to watch their loved ones suffer and some of them die. I also saw one psychologically-troubled woman who felt so trapped by trying to fulfill two seemingly contradictory roles–of traditional woman and working person–and hated her pre-Neo-Confucian reality and herself so much that she retreated into and desired to destroy it and replace it with a culture and political system with “simpler and more ideal roles:” only seeming to realize, at the end, that she had expanded the prison inside herself to the outside.

But I saw the roots of what would become that Neo-Confucian dystopia: of people becoming roles instead of people anymore: becoming silence instead of actions and words. That is what I wanted to say to *Mute if we could have discarded the dialogue wheel we all found so annoying: that she and every woman–every person–was more than a role: that we are all people with feelings and that hate is not the only emotion we have. Hate creates a foundation that attacks itself until the fragile thing built on it rips apart and collapses in on itself. And seeing those … policies go through the Council and seeing each one strip away another freedom for “safety and stability” makes me feel even more cautious about my own world and the subtle infectious forces underneath it all that still discriminate against women and those not of the mainstream: underground or taken for granted attitudes that infect behaviours even unconsciously and just wait to bloom like flowers, colourful beautiful flowers of blood, and bruises, and pain. And, of course, hate.

And hate has to be watched. It has to be dealt with. And it is more deadly under the enforced silence of even something as colourful as a hanbok than all the screaming in the world.

Also, Christine Love manages to problematize, yet again, heterosexual relationships with that new regime but, at the same time, humanizes them and shows that while they weren’t perfect before, they were still legitimate because they were between individuals that may not have always understood each other, but loved each other nonetheless: just as much as the homosexual male and female relationships portrayed.

I don’t know if I communicated this last section well. The analysis seems heavy-handed compared to the elegant and subtle way that Christine Love implemented it and I am exhausted because I just finished playing all of the game today and it is early in the morning now as I finish this. I think I will end this review and analysis by stating that I will give Hate Plus a 5/5 and that what is better than hate is not the flippant answer I gave above. It’s not more hate. It’s love.

I’m sure this is a message of which Christine Love won’t have too much of a problem.

Synchronizations

Not Safe for Work and Possible Trigger Warnings. Reader’s Discretion is advised.

My hand circles around the exposed circuitry gaping from out of the back of her head. And she shudders. I stop as she huddles into me. Her grip is strong and I know, for a fact, that she is holding back as much as I am. Otherwise, my forearm would become instant pulp.

I rest my chin on the top of her head and cup the hole in back of it. Her body is warm and firm against my chest. I rock her back and forth: partly to soothe her into the symmetrical rhythms that her system requires in order to go into a diagnostic mode and mostly to edge myself back from my own mounting fury.

Those bastards … those xenophobic pro-organic fucks … I feel her hand take mine and place it back over the circuits in her cortex. She can sense my heart-beat and blood-pressure and she knows I’m getting angry.

Rage is replaced by shame. This isn’t about me. She was the one they found. She was the one that got assaulted. They battered her, ripped her clothes off, tore off her skin … It doesn’t matter that her flesh grew in a vat, that its nerve-endings had been artificially developed, or that it had been attached to a painstakingly crafted tiny micro-fibre skeleton in an incubator.

She grew long before I met her: developing thoughts and feelings off of the potential built into her cognitive software. She chose that dress she wore that day for herself: that same checkered dress they destroyed coming back from her job at the daycare: taking care of organic and bioloid children alike…

And I wasn’t there.

She takes my fingertips and lightly traces them through her synaptic wires. My bitterness and the guilt fade. We talked about this. I had seen her without her skin before. She showed me how to grow it and reapply to her if she ever couldn’t do it fully for her. Which, for a while, she couldn’t.

That is what led to this moment. I helped her over these past few painful months: regrowing her skin and developing its nerve-fibres. I reattached her arm and tried to turn off her pain-receptors just long enough to finish the job, but I couldn’t fully succeed. Those receptors were placed and cultivated there for a reason: to let her know where and what is wrong with her body. She whimpered as I held her: as she tried not to crush me in her arms.

Underneath her warm skin is a fine mesh of reflective quicksilver, dark-matter velvet and glittering lights: a small internal universe of stars. That first time she revealed this to me and let me touch this part of her, I remember the smoothness of her metal form and how cool it was against my own skin. At the same time, I know it is incredibly strong, but also very pliant. Sometimes we’ve made love when she is in this form and, for some time now, we’ve even been talking about circuit-play.

It is more delicate than hardware manipulation. It is literally an exploration into her head: into her very essence. And months after she was attacked, she does not want to replace the back of her head just yet.

Her other hand, strong enough to crush steel, strokes my cheek as other fingers direct mine into soothing her. It is like being taught how to play a musical instrument and it is definitely a simile that makes sense. Music operates on a similar form of logic from which mathematics is also based. It is that same sense of precision, symmetry and immaculate patterning that comforts her.

I feel her tense and relax against me as her fingers slowly drift away from mine. I follow the pattern of the wire-nerves and circuits in the cool part of her even as her warmth seeps pleasantly into my bones.

I wonder if it will feel different one day. She knows I have the resources to transfer my synapses into a newer form. The truth is I’m tired of the fatigue in this organic form: of the bowel movements and the need to sleep, the hunger and the thirst, and the mess I make by simply existing in flesh every single day. It’s an imperfect mechanism: grown by Nature from a zygote and generated by a series of genetic mutations. Whatever they say about her and however horrible the intended origins of many bioloids are, she at least is not the result of an accident.

Even as I touch her now, I know I could transcend this state at any time. And I look at her in my arms and the fact of the matter is that she will never age. Barring disgusting assaults like nine months ago, her skin and gel-organs will continue to maintain themselves. And she is more than her programming. She surpassed it long ago. She can–and will become–so much more as the years go by, as the centuries pass: unhindered by erosion and time. She is no Helen O’Loy. Without the procedure, I am going to get older and messier and, back when we first dated, I was afraid she would leave me one day.

But she wants me to wait. She tried to explain it to me. She can’t grow old, but I can. And she wants to see that happen. She thinks that I should have that experience and does not want to take that from me. She doesn’t consider my organic existence an imperfection or an aberration.

She sees me as something unique. She teases me and smiles in that way she does that she tells me that she insists on my downloads–my “illegal downloads”–until her “disk-space” is full. It almost makes up for the fact that she will inevitably clean up my messes as I age–to the point where I can’t anymore–but she does not mind this, or so she says.

She sees me as the result of a random set of genetic permutations creating the unique pheromones and body structure–shaped by a particular set of environmental circumstances–to form the details that make up my being. She tells me that neither of us are accidents. As she understands it, I am one of the universe’s gradations made skin and that just as we came from the mind of the universe; her kind came from the same All-mind as us. It’s almost incomprehensible to think that I come from the same beings that would destroy her as an object.

We will age together, she tells me, for a time. We will have a child together and then when that part of our life ends, we will start an entirely new existence: with laughter, friends, lovers and eternal exploration.

Before, as I helped her through the painful act of reconstruction, she told me that in Japanese culture, when an urn is broken and pieced back together, gold is often poured into the cracks: to accept what has happened and to emboss the beauty of its new imperfections.

She leaves her scarring as it is: not wanting me to heal it so that she can paint the cracks in her skin with golden dye so that she can walk around again and display herself–and who she is-with pride.

So now I hold her against me as I listen to the soothing hum of her core: just as she listens to the sound of my heartbeat. That is another reason she does not want me to undergo the process just yet. She likes the sound and feel of my heart. As of this moment, no one has quite replicated the rhythm of the human heart: or so she tells me.

When I ask her why she likes it, she tells me that it reminds her of a steady binary, or the universe speaking to her in old Morse-code through someone that she loves.

As for me, right now, with my healing woman in my arms I envelop myself into the deep thrum of her own heart against mine. By merely being here, her existence sings. Percussion melds into melody and after a while, I don’t know where one sound ends and the other begins.

Robot

Photo Credit: Chris Cunningham working on All is Full of Love

To Serve

Not Safe for Work and Possible Trigger Warnings. Reader’s Discretion is advised.

We find her in the Gutters.

It’s like a bad corporate dystopian film noir: the kind they used to scare us with right in the childhood. My partner’s still gawking on this … travesty in front of us as I’m already at her side.

I can tell that it’s bad. Not terminal, but bad. She’s in a plastered pink latex dress and she’s soaked. Why is it always raining in these fucking stories that are always real life? I can tell you right off that her leg is not supposed to be bending that way.

But her head. Goddammit all, they did a number on her face: it’s all tangled dark hair, blood, and metal. Either they mashed her with a chunk of stainless steel or she’s a girl that really likes her metal …

“Damn,” my partner says, kneeling beside me on the wet concrete, “Is she even–”

There’s this low whine. At first, I think it’s interference. The advert-murals in the Gutters never really work all that great to begin with and with all the hack-jobs and shattered plasta-glass around it’s probably a miracle that they give us this much light.

It takes only a moment to realize that the sound’s coming from her. My partner’s better at following orders than dealing with people. I make my decision quick.

“You,” I tell my partner, “check around for some ID. I’ll talk to her. Go.”

I’m not paying attention to him anymore. I’m placing her wrist in my hand to get a feel for her pulse, “Miss? Miss, stay awake please. Miss, I need you to tell me what happened here?”

She needs to stay conscious. I see one blue sliver open on the most battered part of her face. Its unfocused and muddled with fear. I take her hand and I squeeze it.

“Hey,” my partner calls out, “I found a purse. Credits are still there. Damned if I know why they didn’t take them. Says she’s a waitress nearby on the Docks.”

“That’s not far from the Gutters,” I mutter to myself and her: to keep her alert.

I want to ask her what in the hell she was thinking being down in the Gutters at night. Not even the cops come down here at this time: not if they knew what was good for them. I want to shout at her, but it’s not her fault. She doesn’t deserve this. And looking at the injuries and knowing no one took her credit chips, this looks very fucking personal.

And that’s enough for me.

“Call it in,” I tell my partner, still trying to see if she’s breathing or not, “Tell the Shelter we need some back-up and a forensic. And a Talker,” I add, “definitely a Talker.”

My partner groans, “A forensic’s probably not gonna help. Cheapest scanners in the world, man. Those fuckers are probably squeaky-clean and long gone by now.”

“Tell them to bring it anyway,” I still can’t find her pulse and the ground seems to be thrumming through me. There’s probably a generator nearby.

“Man, we’re just a Volunteer outfit. Neighbourhood Eye. All that, you know? That’s for the police to–”

“The only thing the City’s given us Gutter-trash is glow-in-the-dark advert night-lights,” I’m beginning to remember that I’m pissed off and that my partner’s a bit of an asshole, “The Guilds will pay for our lights, but not our security problems. Scan her ID number through if you need something useful to do.”

I’m not surprised he didn’t do that. He doesn’t think too hard. Good for the gun in his pocket–and not the non-existent one he tells the ladies about–but definitely not for the details. But if she’s not from around here, she could be in another district and out of jurisdiction. The police there might be a better help to her if we scan her number. Maybe she didn’t have time to tap that ID before …

“Um, man?”

I see it before he does. She is moaning quietly again and shifting her head.

“Miss … don’t move.. We’re … we’re getting help for you …”

“Man, the number says–”

“I know what the fucking number says, you dumb fuck!” I’m snarling at him and looking at the side of her face she just showed me, “Please, just shut up. Shut–the fuck–up for a bit.”

I’m staring at a mass of burning circuits and mangled wires underneath tatters of skin. I thought it was just the blood that made that side of her head glitter like that. Good old Heinlein would have called her an Artifact. I call this whole situation a piece of work.

I see a dark stream of waste flowing out of her mini-skirt. It smells like liquid rubber and she’s whimpering. When she speaks, her voice is all static-filled pain.

“Please …” her voice reverbs, and I wonder if it’s because her cords are crushed or if it’s that half the skin on her face is gone, “No … I won’t. I won’t …”

“Guy,” my partner’s pulling at my shoulder, “She’s a Number. Bought herself out of the Slippery Diner. Not our problem.”

“Did you call up the Shelter?” I realize the thrumming beneath me is the hum of her cardiac generator flowing power into her body. I’m taking off my jacket and putting it over her body.

“Yeah, but we don’t have time for this. She’s just a …”

“Just a what?” I’m not looking at him because I know I’m going to punch him if I look at him, “A Skin-Job? Is that it? Tell me, man, do you think you’d still look pretty if it was you without your skin?”

He says nothing. His cowardice saves him from a decking.

“Call them the fuck up again,” I say in a much quieter voice, “Tell them to bring one of those Artificers. I know we have them. So call. Now.”

He shrugs. I stare him down and he walks off. It’s almost a good thing we’re in the Gutters. There are none of them damn Registration Officers here to really cause trouble. Number-watching, my ass. Those stormtroopers make my partner look like freaking Archie Bunker.

“H-help …”

She’s looking up at me. Her one blue eye is pleading. My hand is still in hers. She’s cold to the touch. I know enough to figure that it’s a circulation problem. She might have been warm any other time but this. I grip her hand again.

“Help’s on the way, miss,” I tell her, “You’re a waitress at the Slippery?”

She makes a sound almost like a yes.

“I’ve not been there a while now,” I see the lights of the crew coming in the dark, “best sushi rolls ever.”

I might have even seen her there. She could’ve served me and I would never know it. She looked like she was somewhere else: hoping for a night on the town. I might never know what happened. And no one ever would if we hadn’t got here. She would have been just another lost Number in the Gutter trash.

“Don’t worry, miss. We’re part of the Gutter Shelter. We don’t leave anyone behind. Anyone.”

She looks up at me. The gears in the side of her face make a whirring sound. The flesh part of her face that’s not fucked up is scrunching. The metal part of her is shifting. A tear comes out of her one blue eye. I realize she’s trying to smile, or cry.

It’s breaking my fucking heart.

I realize, later, when they’ve taken her away and my fingers hurt that she’d actually been gripping my hand too.

The Man That Makes Horror into a Science-Fiction of the Ridiculously Sublime

H.P. Lovecraft envisioned a universe where humanity is a small minuscule particle of sanity in a vast morass of evil and madness. In this kind of universe normalcy is an exception and not the commonality: where humanity is either ignored by vast alien intelligences, or horrifically used by malign entities.

Even trying to understand this vastly liquid and alien universe beyond human understanding is dangerous because the person that tries will go utterly insane … or cease to be human entirely. This is a view of the universe created by Lovecraft in his works and you can see how difficult it would be to make a television program out of such a thing or even a movie.

And what’s worse is that Lovecraft was born before the time of Gene Roddenberry: the latter who decreed in his Star Trek science fiction universe that all aliens have to be portrayed as humanoid in order to convey similar human expressions of emotion. Lovecraft’s creatures aren’t even that, and the most polite things you can say about them–when you can envision what they are from how they are described–is that they are the stuff of nightmares. We don’t even have the monster to relate to in this strange place just behind our own existence.

So how can a viewer relate to a universe that is terrifying beyond human comprehension?

I believe that a human answer to a Lovecraftian universe is Doctor Who.

The Doctor is basically Christmas-incarnate with nonsensical wonderfulness, ingenious bluffing skills, and a bad-ass core of fire and ice. And when I say he is Christmas-incarnate, I don’t mean that he’s Christian but that he is just the embodiment of an event that you look forward to at least once a year.

He is a renegade Time Lord on the run that understands time and existence far differently than we do but is light-hearted enough, and wise enough, to appreciate the little things that the grandiose horror of such inhuman non-humanoid horrors like the Daleks miss every time. The Doctor lives in and adapts to an intrinsically frightening, potentially nihilistic universe by being as ridiculous and as tangential as possible: while unifying everything into a haphazard way that–quite miraculously and somehow–works.

It may be that he is insane: and by our human standards he might be. Hell, even by his former fellow Time Lords’ standards, he is probably considered crazy. It doesn’t hurt that he Regenerates into different people each time when he dies, refuses to fight with a gun, and that he travels through time and space, or that he is over eight or nine hundred years old his time. He is the weird. He is the strange. But he is also the laughable: the person the viewer laughs with but also sympathizes with.

The Doctor is the Other with a very humanoid face: but he is still the Other. I appreciate the irony of this statement on at least two levels in that I use the Other as someone who is other than human, and that there is a possible back-story to the Doctor’s character in that he was once an older Time Lord and founder Time Lord society called The Other. But more than that, The Doctor–whose real name we never know and we fear the unknown–is portrayed as the champion of normalcy and sanity against the more destructive and twisted elements of the universe that humanity doesn’t understand.

At the same time though, he challenges normalcy and sanity through his mostly human Companions: changing their lives forever in what they see with him. He shows them that the alien universe, for all it challenges human preconceptions, still has wonders and isn’t always evil. Sometimes, it is quite relatable–the other aliens, worlds, and stars–and although not humanocentric, humanity is definitely a part of the strange and entertaining mosaic.

I’m sure that there have been other articles and essays about The Doctor and the Lovecraftian. Certainly, some older series of books put them both in the same universe: including run ins with the Great Old Ones and so forth. But even if you look at The Doctor’s universe and the villains within as influenced by Lovecraftian literature, I think the thing that really hits home for me–when I look out at how large and terrifying and insensible the world can be–is the image of The Doctor as a hero: armed against all that strangeness and eldritch horror with only his telephone box-fixed TARDIS, his sonic screwdriver, some strange suit, a new face, daring, and a whole lot of curiosity.

And somehow, when I think about it like that, he is one of the few heroes that can make me smile–make me glad to see him–each and every time.

Now, I wonder who or what will be the answer to a Vonnegut universe …