jackofallgeeks: (Write)
[A clipping from the Chicago Tribune, dated July 9th, 2036.]

The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn't give you the date and it didn't give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words "DROWNED" or "CANCER" or "OLD AGE" or "CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN." It let people know how they were going to die.

The problem with the machine is that nobody really knew how it worked, which wouldn't actually have been that much of a problem if the machine worked as well as we wished it would. But the machine was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. "OLD AGE," it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by an bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death — you can know how it's going to happen, but you'll still be surprised when it does.

The realization that we could now know how we were going to die had changed the world: people became at once less fearful and more afraid. There's no reason not to go skydiving if you know your sliver of paper says "BURIED ALIVE." The realization that these predictions seemed to revel in turnabout and surprise put a damper on things. It made the predictions more sinister — yes, if you were going to be buried alive you weren't going to be electrocuted in the bathtub, but what if in skydiving you landed in a gravel pit? What if you were buried alive not in dirt but in something else? And would being caught in a collapsing building count as being buried alive? For every possibility the machine closed, it seemed to open several more, with varying degrees of plausibility. By that time, of course, the machine had been reverse engineered and duplicated, its internal workings being rather simple to construct, given our example. And yes, we found out that its predictions weren't as straightforward as they seemed upon initial discovery at about the same time as everyone else did. We tested it before announcing it to the world, but testing took time — too much, since we had to wait for people to die. After four years had gone by and three people died as the machine predicted, we shipped it out the door. There were now machines in every doctor's office and in booths at the mall. You could pay someone or you could probably get it done for free, but the result was the same no matter what machine you went to. They were, at least, consistent.



Letter from the Editor )
jackofallgeeks: (Write)
Sometimes I'll sit and wonder to myself, "how did I get here?" I think everyone does from time to time -- the subtle movements of life have a way of leading us down paths we aren't fully aware we're walking, until one day we look up and don't recognize our surroundings.

The answer always depends on how specific you want to get. For example, in a narrow sense, I got here by climbing more stairs than I'd like to think about and opening the roof-access door out to the top of one of the tallest buildings in the city. How is often followed up with why and, in this limited scope, that's easy, too: because the top of a skyscraper is conveniently similar to a mountaintop, and taking the elevator was unfortunately not much of an option.

Of course, in the more generally sense of "how" and "why," things get quite a bit more complicated. It's hard to say how I came to be a practitioner of The Arts, let alone why I'm attempting a Work that requires a mountaintop or why it's in my better interests that building security doesn't know I'm here.

That all takes quite a bit more explanation.
jackofallgeeks: (Solemn)
I'm not sure how long I'd been driving. A long time.

There's really no such thing as sunset in West Virginia. The place is all hills and valleys, 'mountains' as the locals call them, which reduces sunset to one climatic moment, one splash of read over the sky before darkness. I pulled off the highway and over an overpass to a gas station just as the sun kissed the ridgeline and it was over before I'd parked.

I staggered the first couple of steps, my feet unused to walking after so many hours driving, but it felt good the get out and stretch. There was a stiff, chill wind that felt good on my face and carried the clean smell you only find several hundred miles out from any large city. I walked purposefully toward the restroom, a side building next to the gas station's quick mart. I'd never needed to pee so badly.

I was washing up, splashing water on my face to clean the grime of the day off and wake me up a bit, when the door opened behind me and a man walked in. He was middling-height, just shy of middle aged with a haircut that would make a pretty poor come-over once he crossed that threshold. He wore a suit that was a little rumpled from driving, his shirt half-untucked and one shoe untied. He cast a furtive glance at me out of the corner of his eye, catching my face in the mirror, before taking one of the toilet stalls. One thought occurred to me: dark country highway like this, that guy could be some kind of... psycho killer or something.

I wiped my hands over my face and saw my own reflection in the mirror. Tall and broad, with an old t-shirt that almost didn't fit, bloodshot eyes and a day's growth of stubble, pallid complexion and a dull, brutish expression on my face.

And that's when it struck me: I was the psycho killer.

We all have our part to play...
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
The most difficult thing, Lisa thought as she reached for her soda, was having to think about it. Up, out, grasp, in; there was so much added thinking since the operation.

Lisa had lost her left arm in a traffic accident when her VT-230 was sandwiched between an industrial transport and the inner wall of the downtown tunnel. The actual surgery was the easy part; sleeping for two and a half days didn't take much effort, especially when you were heavily drugged and low on blood anyways. It was the year and a half of therapy afterwards that was hard. Even now she wasn't quite used to her prosthetic.

Down, out, release, she set her glass back on the table infront of her and folder her arm in her lap. They said it was fully bionic, which means that the arm's electronics met with her natural nerve endings somewhere behind her shoulder blade. This let her control her mechanical arm as well as her biological one, at least in theory. It seems she thought a lot more about her mechanical arm.

It even looked mechanical, though less in the pistons-and-struts ways some old '90s films showed and more of a molded plastic, in shades of blue and purple. Developers had given up on making 'realistic' looking prosthetics after patients started being repulsed by the almost-human parts, a phenomenon that researchers called the 'uncanny valley.'

She was running her left hand over her right, feeling the play of plastic against flesh. They said there would be no sensation of touch in her left hand; 'research into the proper receptors hadn't advanced,' they said. But they were wrong, she thought. She could feel her arm, he fingers, the smoothness of the glass and the subtle textures of the table. It was a different sort of sensation compared to her biological hand, but it was a sensation nonetheless.

She sighed and stood. It was time to pick up the kids.
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
The door whined on it's hinges as I pushed it open. With the power out it was dark and hot inside. Sections of the false floor had been pulled up in places exposing metal struts and corded bundles of wires. The air smelled like rotting meat.

The door swung shut behind me and in the sudden gloom my flashlight seemed inadequate. There was a fleshy squyelching sound coming from one of the back offices, punctuated now and again by hollow cracking sounds.

I turned the corner around a blood-splattered cubical and there it was -- the zombie that ate my co-workers.
jackofallgeeks: (Write)
Her hands shook slightly as she placed the filter back into the coffee maker. He liked coffee when he got home from work. The drip of the thick coffee into the pot seemed to echo through the kitchen. Everything sounded hollow and fake today.

Eleven months, twenty-nine days, four hours. Her marriage had almost lasted a year. She blinked slowly, turned rigidly and reached under the kitchen sink. It's your own fault, a voice in the back of her head taunted as she mixed some cleaning solution in a bucket. It would still be alright if you hadn't come back to change your shoes, the voice continued. She tried to ignore it's accusations. A lopsided smile played across her lips; she was unsure whether she wanted to laugh or cry.

Coffee hissed onto the heating element as she pulled the pot away to pour herself a cup. She held it, the clay mug warm against her hands, and breathed in the aroma. She didn't really intend to drink it, but the scent almost cleared her head. Almost.

She shuffled up the stairs to the bedroom, stubbing her toes on the carpeted steps and hardly noticing the pictures lining the wall.

Sunlight streamed in through the blinds, casting the room in odd, fake-looking shades. Her suitcase sat on the bed. Their bed. The bed she had found him in. With her, the voice mocked. Her hands shook again, spilling hot coffee over her fingers and onto the rug. She didn't notice it.

Just like before, the voice said as she remembered coming back to find her husband in bed with another woman. A young, blond woman. She wasn't surprised, really. She expected it. It would have been OK, if he'd been discreet. If he'd acted the part, if he'd allowed her to believe her own lies. Just... even just pretended to be happy, then it would have been fine.

There had been yelling. She wasn't sure how much had been her. He said that it was her fault he was with another woman. She slammed her mug on the dresser and looked hard at her reflection in the mirror. Once-pretty eyes sat deep in a face of once-smooth skin. Her mousy brown hair was tangled and had lost what luster it once held. It probably was her fault. Things had been different since the accident.

She found herself suddenly on the floor, light-headed and crumpled in a heap. Her mug had been knocked off the dresser, leaving a wide, brown stain on the rug. She got shakily to her feet. No, nothing had been quite right after the accident.

She half-shuffled, half-fell down the stairs. Her left foot hurt. He would be coming home, soon; she should make coffee. She dumped the pot down the sink as coffee hissed onto the heating element. Her hands shook slightly as she pulled up the filter and replaced it with a new one. She would have to get more coffee; they seemed to be running low. She heard the door open and shut.

"Dear...?" She called in a shaky voice, making her way out to the foyer. She found him in the sitting room, collapsed in his favorite chair with his eyes closed.

"Hello, dear," she said, trying to smile. "How was work?" He grunted in response, his eyes still closed.

"Do... do you have any plans for tomorrow?" she asked tentatively. His eyes opened and he looked at her with an unreadable expression.

"No... no, I don't, Emmaline." he said, his voice rough.

"But," she began, trying and failing to keep her voice even. "But, it's our anniversary!" Her voice cracked with emotion and her vision swam for a moment.

"Emma, don't start with that again," he said, a note of concern in his voice but with an undertone of exasperation.

"Wou- Would you like some coffee, dear?" she couldn't bear to stay on the topic.

He sighed heavily and sat back in his chair, closing his eyes.

"Yes, Emmaline. Yes, I would like some coffee. Please."

She went back into the kitchen and poured a glass of coffee. Then, without really thinking about it, she added some of the cleaning solution she'd made up, stirred it well, and took it out to her husband.


Credit where credit is due. )
jackofallgeeks: (Sardonic)

Adam J. DuLac
1976-1999
Devoted husband and father.
Mt. 16:26


That's how my headstone reads. The J is for 'James.' I was never married.

Stranger than that, of course, is the fact that I'm standing here on a gray autumn evening looking down at it, apparently two years after I died. You'd probably like to know how this came to be.

Frankly, I'm wondering the same thing.
jackofallgeeks: (Write)
I loved her once.

We were young, and I use that as an excuse. It was a crisp autumn early in my college years, before I knew enough to be more wary of such things. She was an English Major and I was a Mechanical Engineer. I never would have even met her if my room-mate Martry hadn't brought her over to 'study' for their Shakespeare exam. Of course, he had little intention of studying, and I'm pretty sure she was aware of that. I was there when they showed up, and polite 'hellos' turned into a rather extensive conversation about politics and social issues. She had a beautiful smile. Marty wasn't in on the conversation, though, and at the first opening he gave me that "you need to be somewhere else now" look, so I made some excuse and left.

Whatever they'd had, it didn't last long. She stopped coming over after a while, and Marty wasn't the sort of guy to 'talk' about things. The next time I saw her was at the Cafeteria a couple months later. She was passing out fliers for a social-awareness event, and asked if I was going to be there. I might say I went because it looked interesting, but that'd be a lie. It did look interesting, but I went because I wanted to see her again.

We started spending lots of time together, eating meals in the cafeteria and talking about current events. She wanted to get a sociology minor; I was having enough trouble with just my major. We argued a lot, she always seemed to be on the wrong side of every issue, but it was never bad. You know how usually there are hard feelings when you get in an argument about touchy issues? It was never like that. in fact, I liked her more every time she stood up to me and defended her point.

We dated, actually dated, for a few months as Juniors. It was nice, but it really wasn't different, you know? We did the same things we always did, and we were happy with that. OK, yeah, there was more kissing, and she saw Marty for the first time since their little fling; he didn't seem to remember her.

We didn't really have a break-up. Graduation came and she went off to Miami to get a graduate degree. I got a job back home in Colorado. We kept in touch through AIM and email for a while, but the contact became weaker and weaker as it became more apparent that we weren't really a part of each other's lives any more.

It's been about a year now since I talked to her last. She'd moved up to New Hampshire and was seeing a Lawyer from New York or something. Her sister got married, and her father got sick. But that was all a while ago.

Really, I don't know her any more. I might not even recognize her if I saw her.

But I loved her, once.
jackofallgeeks: (Write)
There once was a little girl named Heather. She was blond-haired and blue-eyed and she lived in a little white house on a little green hill. She loved her mommy and her daddy and her kitty, and she had a special guardian angel who watched out for her; mommy said so.

Heather was a very happy child, but even happy children don't stay children forever.

One day, Heather and her family had to move, because Daddy got a new job. Heather and Mommy and kitty moved into an apartment in the city and daddy was gone a lot. The streets were loud, even at night, and everywhere Heather looked it was hard and cold and grey. But Heather was still happy. She still had her mommy and her kitty, and a special guardian angel who watched out for her; mommy said so.

Heather was still getting older, as children tend to do. She was going to kindergarten, and then middle school, and then high school. Mommy and daddy started fighting. There was lots of yelling, and daddy was gone more than ever. Mommy cried a lot, and it made Heather feel sad. She would go into her room, close her door, and hug her kitty. One day daddy didn't come back, but Heather tried to be brave, because she still had her kitty and a special guardian angel who watched out for her. Mommy had said so.

But mommy wasn't around much any more, she had to get a job to pay the rent. And Heather started spending more time away from home, walking around the streets. Sometimes she would pass by the office where her daddy used to work and she would sneer up at it. Eventually she found new people to make her happy, boys and girls and movies and cigarettes. She didn't have her mommy or her daddy any more. Nobody was watching out for her.

It was a cold autumn evening, and Heather was just getting off of work; she waited tables in a slimy diner to put herself through college in a town far away from her mommy and daddy and kitty. The sky was a low ceiling of rapidly shifting clouds. It was windy, and dark, and Heather started feeling scared walking back to her apartment. And then she took a wrong turn and found herself in a dark alley that smelled like vomit and urine, cornered by an ugly homeless man who smelled even worse and was giving her looks that made her skin crawl.

It all happened so fast.

The man lunged at her, but before he touched her something large and black jumped up from the shadows and knocked him against the alley wall. Bare feet scraped over the slime-slicked alley floor as Heather's rescuer held the homeless man up of the ground. There was a hollow crack and then a sickening crunch, and the homeless man crumpled into a pile.

Heather drew a sharp breath as her rescuer turned toward her and she got a good look at him. He was tall and pale, bare-foot and bare-chested, with long hair that had once been blond but was now to tangled and greasy to tell. Large black wings stretched out behind him, oily feathers that dripped a thick, dark pitch that sizzled when it hit the ground.

With sad, sad eyes he looked at her and said, "Even now, I won't let them hurt you."

Phonemes

Apr. 28th, 2006 04:43 pm
jackofallgeeks: (Gendo)
Professor Hartdale's usual demeanor, which gave one the impression that he secretly knew the punchline to a joke no one else heard, melted in an instant to a mix of weariness and anger -- or the closest approximation to anger that his grandfatherly features could accept.

"Yes, yes, boy. The words have power -- harmonics intrinsic to the fabric of reality and all the other theoretical jargon. But no, you can't just teach anyone to say them and be done with it; it's not that simple. Even aside from everything else, you have been studying for well over a month now and you still can't pronounce them correctly. There are subtleties, sounds and slurs that you can't even distinguish yet. It's more than a matter of hearing what the words sound like, boy. You have to know what they are."

Conspiracy

Apr. 28th, 2006 04:25 pm
jackofallgeeks: (Darkside)
"This," she said, pointing to an article in the New York Times, "isn't dangerous. Nor was the Special they showed on CNN last night, or the piece in last month's Popular Science. What's dangerous is all of them taken together, combining all the pieces." She looked sadly at him, "Knowing isn't the problem, James; knowing you know is."

Guildmarks

Apr. 28th, 2006 04:20 pm
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
And there it was. The slight curling of the fingers, seeking -- and finding -- the subtle scars on the heal of the hand; more importantly, his own curling and seeking and finding of my own Mark. And suddenly our conversation took on a new meaning. The words weren't important; we could be talking about the weather or the price of tea or anything at all. The real meaning was hidden in the tone and inflection of the words.

There was a Guild Safehouse in Downtown, but the city was mostly a Union stronghold. Things were tense, but hadn't escalated to outright violence. Yet. Avoid the subways; they were infested with Underlings, and worse things according to some.
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
"I'm sorry, Alexander..."

There was the metallic click of a revolver advancing as Diastole turned toward the voice he knew too well. He turned to see her, clad in black leather as always, pointing a snub-nosed pistol at his head. Her face was impassive, but tears streaked down her cheeks from behind her mirrorshades.

"This is how it has to end." She said. There was a loud bang, a flash of white light--
--and Diastole sat bolt upright in his bunk, slamming his head into the bunk above him.

"Fuck, damn it!" he cursed, falling back on his bed and putting a hand to the welt forming on his forehead; he could feel it was bleeding.

He was covered in a cold sweat and felt nauseous. Fucking realistic dream he though, rolling out of his bunk and dropping to the floor, the metal cold against his bare feet. He staggered out into the hallway, heading down to the sick bay. And then maybe the mess, he thought as his stomach grumbled.

Bare-chested, barefoot, and breathing in the stale, musty air of the Hovercraft Cenobite, his home, Diastole remember to when he's first been Extracted; to when he'd first met her.


. . . - - - . . .


Mick, a tall square-jawed man, was showing him around the ship, Captain Ericava's Equinox.It was a mass of dirty metal and criss-crossed catwalks; it looked to Diastole as thought it had been thrown together with whatever spare parts had been laying around; not exactly the sort of think you wanted to be flying around in. Dialtone, the guy who had 'recruited' Diastole gave him a smile and a slap on the shoulder as he passed the other way.Diastole had met Dialtone through a newsgroup buried in the seedier end of the Internet, the place people went when they wanted to know the Truth.

That's what Dialtone had said, anyways, and he'd certainly shown Diastole a version of truth: the world's a lie. Everything you've ever experienced is just so many electric impulses that the Machines give you, to keep you sated and subdued. It was a hell of a lot to take in.Diastole didn't like a lot of the implications. He had found himself vomiting a lot those first few weeks.

Mick was the Operator of Equinox, the one responsible for running the broadcast software and managing the on-board systems.

"It used to be that all operators were freeborn -- birthed naturally in Zion, not grown in a vat like the rest of us. Not these days, though," he said, indicating the plug in the back of his shaved head. "Ever since The Truce, there have been more of us out here than ever; Zion can't even keep up with the demand for Hovercraft. Not that we really need them like we used to."

"Who's Operator when you jack in, then?" Diastole asked.

Mick laughed, but it seemed a little uneasy, "Oh, I don't.. that is, I can't, see... I mean, there's no one else to run it. I'm the Operator, that's my job." And he shrugged it off, but Diastole wasn't convinced.

The two of them headed into the mess, where Mick grabbed a couple dishes and filled them with the lumpy gray gruel that passed for most meals on the ship. 'High in protein,' they said, and Diastole believed them; it tasted like every health-food head ever tried in the Matrix.

Just as they were sitting down, though...

"Oy, Mick!" called the first of a pair from across the room. He was a short bronze-skinned man about as broad as he was tall, with wild black hair and a scar across the right side of his lip; Diastole knew him as Crosscut, and he'd been with Dialtone when they picked Diastole up. The second was new, though. She was a slight girl with short blond hair pulled out of her face with a leather strip. She was bare-foot and wore the same rough-spun clothes as everyone else on board, her face was smeared with dirt, but she was somehow... stunning. She didn't say anything, but glanced at him for a quick moment; her eyes were a golden yellow.

"Mick, Cap'n wants yeh. We're sending a group in ter scuffle with the Merv," Crosscut finished when he had Mick's attention.

"Right, right, I'll be right there." Mick grumbled, scooping spoonfuls of gruel into his mouth as the pair headed off toward the Broadcast room. He got up and dumped his unfinished meal back into the pot, but motioned for Diastole to stay.

"You eat up. And try not to spew this time." And with that, he left.


. . . - - - . . .


It felt like he'd been laying in his bunk for hours, but he really had no way of telling. That was one thing Diastole didn't like about the Hovercraft: no sense of time. It always looked the same. The only think he could measure by was the snoring of Crosscut on the bunk above him, which wasn't very much help after a while.

He couldn't sleep, so he got up and decided to walk the halls for a bit; maybe that would put him to sleep.

His feet sounded hollow in the corridors, a staccato beat against the subtle rumbling of the hovercraft's machinery. The lights buzzed,the pipes hummed, and somewhere deep the engined beat just below audibility. Out of the belly of one Machine and into another, Diastole thought for a second, just before he felt his bile rise. No, he didn't like the implications of that one, either.

He'd almost made a complete circuit when he heard a muffled cough from the bridge. He went to see who else might be up and found, curled in a tight ball on the navigator's chair and wrapped in a thick rough-spun,the blond girl from earlier. He cleared his throat and she looked up at him, then returned to looking out of the bridge's large windows, out at the dark, barren landscape beneath the rolling, angry sky.

"Can't sleep either, huh?" he said after a short pause.

She shook her head. "No. I.. the engines keep me up, sometimes."Her voice was light and smooth and warm. Diastole couldn't help but smile a little bit.

"You're the new guy, aren't you?" She looked up at him again. "Dialtone just brought you out."

"Yeah. I haven't seen you around, though. I mean, not that I've been all over, just..." he trailed off feeling a little foolish.

She gave him a quick smile. "I keep to myself, usually. They...Captain Ericava... that is, I'm pretty new, too. I was still getting used to things when Dialtone found you."

She looked back out the windows. "Still am..." she said, almost to herself.

"I'm, er, Diastole," he said awkwardly, extending his hand. She looked back at him, then at his hand, and smiled in truth this time.She took his hand lightly; her hand was warm and soft.

"They call me Revelation Two-Sixteen. Or just 'Rev,' when they're feeling laconic."

"They named you?"

She laughed. It was musical. "No, I named myself just as anyone else here did. What I meant, was... Never mind."

"Why'd you pick 'Revelation Two-Sixteen'? It seems... odd."

"And Diastole isn't? Why'd you pick that?"

Diastole could feel himself blush. "Er, well... it's a medical term. From 'Intro to Biology,' that is. I was studying one to... That is... It's, uhm, part of the heartbeat, when the heart fills with blood. And, I don't know, I just liked the sound. Seems like the sort of name that says 'alive'; and I guess that's how I want to feel."

"How visceral." she said flatly, but passed it off with a smile. "Revelation 2:16 is book, chapter, and verse in the Bible. Quote,'therefore, repent. Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth.' It's God telling his Chosen People that they're botching things again and he's not happy. But underneath that... It seems strangely suited to our world, one marked by violence and ruled by information. The sword of our mouths can be a potent weapon..."

She stared out the front windows again. When she spoke again, she didn't look at him.

"Who were you before they pulled you out? Before you were Diastole?"

"Uhm, well... My name was Alex. Alexander Pilate, I guess, really. I was studying electronics in college when I first started wondering.You know, about the way things were. I guess that's when I 'became' Diastole..."

"Did you have any family?" She was still staring out the windows, but her voice was softer, almost brittle.

"Well, there was my mom. My father left when I was young, just after my little sister was born." He felt his bile rise again; in the Matrix, what was family?

"I was Sophia Locke. I..." She shook suddenly, then went on. "I had a family, once, but..." She curled tighter, visibly shrinking into the blanket she was wrapped in. "The Matrix is a scummy dreamworld, Diastole. A cage of lies that we're told, and that we tell each other. They say the Machines are to blame for our suffering, but people, real people, are capable of such... We leave the dream of lies and enter this nightmare that they call Real, and I'm not sure it's any better; the same thing with a different face..."

She stood abruptly and pushed passed Diastole saying, "I have to go."

He though he saw tears streaming down her face as she rushed by.


. . . - - - . . .


"Not looking where we're going again, Dis?"

It was Gethsemani, the Cenobite's resident 'fixer,' always with a snarky quip to make sure the crew was on it's toes.

"Hey Geth. Busted my head on the bunk; fucking awful dream."

"By the look of that welt it was more than a dream."

"Funny. I'm looking for the painkillers."

She handed him a bottle of pills and sat down on the examination bench. Even clad in rough-spun clothes instead of leather, and with her naturally mousy-brown hair instead of her wildly styled RSI, there was something about Gethsemani which demanded to be sultry.

"You look troubled, Dis. Something on your mind."

He shook his head. "No, just... the dream reminded me of when I was first unplugged. Back on the Equinox..."

Gethsemani smiled wickedly at the mention of Dis' old ship. "I've always thought it was rather funny, in a morbid way, how that Captain Ericava went rogue not long after we 'smuggled' you from the Zionites. They say he killed nearly his whole crew before taking his ship into hiding. Did you know any of them very well?"

Diastole thought of Revelation Two-Sixteen. Therefore, repent.

"No. I didn't really know his crew that much."
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
Outside the run down tenement the storm had subsided slightly, enough that the sounds of passing cars and periodic gunfire could be heard over the rattle of rain against the dirt-smudged windows and drafty wallboards. Inside was a network of dimly lit rooms, boarded-up doorways and rotting floorboards. The place smelled like piss and vomit, and was a nest for rats and the half-mad.

Just like home, thought Diastole.

He stood at one end of a small, dark room on the fourth floor; the windows were boarded over and none of the doorways had doors in them. There was a moth-eaten rug sitting in the middle of the room, a sunken-in couch against the windows, and a single naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Diastole stood resolute, detached. He was in this world, but not of it; he was an independent in the Cold War around him, unburdened, unattached, uncontrolled. Free. it was actually something of Zen-state, he thought.

Diastole was one of an elite group, Awake in a land of Dreams. He saw the world around him and saw it for what it was, illusions and chains, because his eyes had been open to Reality; humankind was enslaved by the machines that fed off of them, and this world was just so many lies constructed to make them believe... whatever it was they wanted to believe.

And people are so very good at that. He thought.

He was first Awoken, like most others, by the Children of Zion, a group of the Awakened who claim to have been the first to Awake, and the first to fight the Machines. They had a prophesy about The One who would come and liberate them all. But The One had come, and he had fought, and he had died. And the Matrix still stands. There was no liberation. The Machines are still in control, and the Cold War that's resulted is proof that Zion can't win. On top of that, Diastole had issues with the Zion philosophy. They didn't just want to Awake, they wanted to leave. They wanted to unplug from the Matrix and enter The Real, a harsh, dark, dirty world, the results of an actual world that burnt the land and boiled the see. It even took away the sky. The people in The Real live like the people in this tenement; barely alive, always hungry, smelling like piss and vomit. So Diastole left.

A mercenary, a gun for hire, he makes his way in the world now plying his trade to the highest bidder; and there are plenty of bidders when the Gun is Awake, when he can see and understand and manipulate the Matrix. That's a powerful Gun indeed. Usually, the highest bidder is The Merovingian, the head of a vast plutocracy beneath the surface of the Matrix; Exiles, programs marked for deletion and errant humans like Diastole, all surviving, thriving, in the contention between Zion and the Machines.

But there are other bidders. And one of them was standing at the other end of this shitty room.

She looked at him through mirror-lensed sunglasses, her face impassive. Was wrapped in a black leather duster, and her short-cut blond hair fell out from beneath her black cap. She was also Awake, and had also left Zion; but where Diastole had left to serve himself, she had gone to serve the Machines. She was cold and calculating. And she was still as beautiful as when he'd met her.

"Some Zionites dropped this," Diastole said after a long silence, pulling a small blue computer disk out of his jacket. "I thought you might like it."

Her lips quirked into a smile. "How kind of you, Mr. Pilate." She said, holding out her hand. Her voice was soft and smooth, but it had lost it's warmth some time ago. Diastole hesitated for a moment, and then handed her the disk; she slipped it into a pouch on her hip. Then she said, "I trust this hasn't... complicated matter for you?" Her voice was even, but he saw a flash of concern on her face. She tries so hard, he thought.

"Not anymore than usual; I don't expect there to be a lot of difficult questions, though." He hesitated, then, "Rev, look, I- " but she cut him off.

"This concludes our business, Mr. Pilate. You should probably leave before someone finds you here."

He took a half-step back. Then he turned, and slowly walked to the door. He hadn't left, though, when she called out again.

"You think you're free, Alex, but you're not."

He turned back to face her.

"You think you've broken your chains, but you're just as bound as before. You saw that Zion wasn't free, that they just traded a cage of silver for a cage of filth and call it truth. But you can't see that you've only changed your bars, too. You've traded the Dream for the Nightmare, but it's no more Real. Your belief binds you, Alex."

There were a mix of emotions playing on her face. He shook his head. "And you? You've gone to the Machines, Rev. They are the cage. You want me to believe you're better off?"

"I'm not free ether, Alex. But I am in control." There was a hint of the steely restraint back in her voice. "Take care of yourself, Alex. I'll be in touch." And with the swish of leather on leather, she turned and left through her own door.

"You too, Sophie," he whispered.

The storm had picked up outside. He walked out of the room, down the crooked stairway, and out into the rain-wet city.
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
"This place was beautiful once," he said to her, kicking a soda can down the paved walk. It clattered down a jagged path, his a discarded paper bag that was now oozing it contents, and rolled under a bus that had been dead for a long time. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, and grimaced.

Beautiful, he thought, and now it smells like garbage and rotting things.

"I remember, when I was a kid, we would come down here all the time. There were always people here, other kids with other families, running and laughing. You could smell the salt on the air, mingling with hotdogs and popcorn. The sun beaming down, and the trainers calling from the different shows, accompanied by cheers from the crowds..."

He trailed off, looking around at the dead trees, the gray sky. They were the only two here, except for a homeless man who looked like a shuffling mass of rags and hair. An old metal gate groaned on it's hinges in a slight breeze.

"Why do beautiful things have to die?"
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
Hieropolis was a crummy town, but it was a large crummy town, home to over five hundred thousand people who spent their time meandering about its streets and alleyways like insects over a moldering animal, and with about as much purpose. The better of them lived outside of town, usually in Belmont or Lancaster, and worked Downtown, pushing papers around desks which populated the dozens of glass-and-steel monoliths that made up that section of the city. Some were at the local college, Astarte University, either voluntarily or through tenure. Most spent the majority of their time spending or making money at the countless seedy bars and night clubs, the rotten corners of a dying city, and falling between the cracks where those even lower would prey on the weak and unwary.

This alley was just like any other in the city, the same piles of trash, the same slick sheen of slime, the same reek of urine and vomit. Everything was the same, except for the three relatively minor additions of a Mister Johnson, a local police officer, and a once-human body ripped into several large but mostly-unidentifiable pieces. The fact that there was nothing else marking this ally from any other bothered Mister Johnson.

He stood up slowly, unfolding into a monolith of dark skin, squared edges and Italian tailoring. His gray-blue eyes lifted from the corpse pieces and came to rest on the police officer. Reynolds. Officer Eric Reynolds, age 29, with the force for about seven years and he’s still working this beat. That itself speaks volumes.

Just the two men in the alley, no police tape, no lights; no big show, the way Johnson liked it. At this hour, even in the heart of the city, the streets were mostly deserted; cars moved in packs and most people were still asleep, but Johnson didn’t like drawing attention.

“Tell me again,” Johnson rumbled in a deep voice, “how you found this.”

Johnson knew how Reynolds had found the body. He was patrolling his beat; he’s got the late shift and, while this isn’t the worst part of town, the fact that he went on foot and without a partner was testament to his foolishness. He was coming up on this alley when he saw what looked like a bum wadded up at the corner of one of the buildings. He went to ‘do his duty’ and tell the bum to shove off, only to find that this bum was in several pieces. Not all of the vomit smell was from Reynolds, but the freshest of it was.

Reynolds reported all of this, in many more words and far more tediously.

“So, then I called Distribution,” Reynolds finished, leaving out the vomiting, “and then you showed up.” He paused for a second, and then got up the nerve to look Johnson in the eye and ask, “what agency did you say you were from again?” Johnson just glowered at him for a few moments.

“Do you know what killed this man, Reynolds?”

“Well, uh… I guess it would pretty obviously be the fact that he’s torn in three, sir.” Reynolds said hesitantly.

Johnson shook his head, squatting back down.

“You’re wrong, and for several reasons. See this tear here? Living flesh doesn’t rip like that, meaning he was dead before he was torn apart. You can also see by the coloring around the wounds that tissue had died uniformly, then it was torn. So he was dead first.”

Johnson stood up, “On top of that, he’s been dead for some time. In fact, I’d say he was dead for a week or more, give or take. Dead for a couple weeks, and then torn up and strewn down this alley.”

Johnson turned back toward the street and began heading out of the alley. He would need someone to come clean this up, quietly, before the newspapers got to it. Newspapers loved sensationalism.

“And there’s no blood in this alley, Reynolds. A body torn in pieces, and no blood.”
jackofallgeeks: (Solemn)
As his vision swam into focus, she moved toward him like oil across water, fluid in soft leathers and a fitted duster. Yellow eyes fixed on him through tinted plastic; they had a predatory cast.

"I see you've awakened," she purred. "And sooner than we expected."

His field of vision expended, slowly pushing back the hazy black cloud of unconsciousness. He could see the walls now. Behind her, flanking the door, stood two men of slight build, each dressed in identical tailored suits and mirrorshades. They were expressionless, motionless, cold.

"You stand -- or sit, rather -- in a bit of an unfortunate circumstance, Mister... Topher, is it?" He turned his head, focusing back on her face, her yellow eyes; his vision swam, and he felt he might topple. He didn't, he was strapped to the chair.

"Michael Topher, also known as 'Lamasu.' A clever handle, by the way, Mr. Topher. The lamasu from ancient Assyrian myth was a creature set to protect cities and forts, and according to our records, you began your career as a 'guardian,' per se, obscuring certain otherwise-traceable datastreams to protect you're clients' 'confidentiality.'"

A gloved hand lightly grabbed his chin, brought his face forward, "You're drifting, Mr. Topher. Pay attention."

She let go of his chin and took a step back. "Did you ever read about the philosopher Descartes, Mr. Topher?" She began to remove her gloves. "Descartes had an interesting idea about the nature of the world, that one might simply be a mind in a void, and everything we experience is controlled by some 'evil genius,' some god of the machine."

She stepped forward, draping her arms over his shoulders and getting very close to his ear. He felt her warm breath on his neck, smelled her faint perfume.

"I am that god, Mister Topher."

She drew back, caressing his cheek with her fingertips and, with that caress, transmitting the virus which ravaged his mind.

Her footfalls were hard and sharp against the floor as she strode out of the room.

"Clean him up," she said as she passed the guards.

"Yes, Miss Locke." And they went to work.
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
"You really aren't getting it, are you?"

The man sitting across from Adam was of average height and a slight build, with a Mediterranean-bronze to his skin and slicked-back black hair. His features were sharp and angular. His green eyes were focused and intense, giving Adam the impression that, once alighted on a subject, nothing escaped their observation.

The man pulled his shirt-sleeve back a bit as he reached for another olive.

"Let's try this, shall we? You see, I am 'Satan' in much the way that you are 'Technical Supervisor.' It's a position. It's my job."

Adam watched the man as he rather nonchalantly took a sip from his wine, as though he had commented on stocks rather than admitted to being the Devil. For a moment, those eyes were off of him, and Adam felt a physical pressure lift from his chest. But only for a moment.

"It's my job, Adam. It's what I do. It's a fact among us angels that we are rather defined by our jobs -- I am nothing but my job, Adam -- though I suppose you men are not so much different. Not without effort, at least."

The man chuckled as though he'd made a little joke, ate another olive. Adam tried to sip from his own wine glass, fumbled it a bit, and dribbled a red stream down his tie.

"The point is, Adam," and it seemed as though there were steel in the man's voice, "it is my job. I am assigned as the adversary. 'For what is light without the dark, what is warmth without the chill?'" He sounded the way a televangelist might, as though quoting a holy text.

"I was put here, in this position, in this job, because it is a necessary function. After all, God gave you free will, yes, but what use is being able to choose if there are no choices to make? I give man those choices, Adam. I give him the opportunity to reach for the divine. I'm supposed to give him an alternative. No one walks into Hell but willingly."

He reached for another olive, then stopped.

"You're not eating, Adam. I thought you said you liked Italian food."

"I..." Adam's throat was more than a little dry, he tried again, but the man went on.

"I am called 'Prince of this World,' and it's the truth. I'm on par with Micheal, they have that much right, though we rarely actually fight. That is, no more than, say, two competing tech firms."

He smiled, but it was an expression without warmth, a predatory expression.

"But that's the real kicker, Adam. I was put in this position by God. I didn't 'Fall' for my pride. There was no great war, not the way you beastly creatures would envision it, anyways. I was assigned to this duty. And no matter how the stones land, He's the one who collects in the end."

He took another olive.

"You really should eat more, Adam; you look awfully pale."
jackofallgeeks: (Literary)
Her entire life had built up to this moment, and she hesitated.

It had been foreseen at her birth that her path would lead her to this place, to this crucial point. The wisewoman had trained her personally, away from her family. She had spent a full seven winters practicing her charms so that she would not be overcome. She had bested each test, each trick that the wisewoman has set against her. In this moment, she could not be defeated.

And in this moment, she hesitated. The room was not dark, but lit by a warm, orange light. Gentle music played, strings and piano. And there he stood, clad not in flames and scarred flesh but in an italian business suit, offering her a glass of champagne.

She had not expected The Devil to be so handsome.

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John Noble

August 2012

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