Short Story: The Nature of Love

Madness. Chaos. Disorder. All in flashes that burn retinal nightmares into the mind. Blood and screams. Far off smoke, nearing. Smells of sulfur, gunpowder, death. Once-tall buildings lay in ruins, any former majesty that kissed or embraced the sky with its dark beauty of Human progress now regressed and weeping; mounds of rubble that burn, scream, and bleed.

He was torn from sleep beside her, sensing her nightmares. He hadn’t seen the images, but knew she was living them. Nightly. Cost of a rising action in Human Evolution forcing him to coddle her to sleep every night, but also hold her tight anytime she tossed and turned, wept or screamed.

He wrapped his arms tight around her. Amber flax, frayed at their ends and needling his skin at breath. She needed a mother. Someone to care for her properly. Someone whom knew what they were doing. A woman– Christ, anyone– he needed them himself.

But all this madness, this chaos… It was too dangerous to go out into. To seek one. Especially for her. Whomever she was.

He’d never gotten her name, but she had one. Who didn’t? Worse, she couldn’t have been ten years old, yet was fully-aware as any adult. More-so, even. Most of them couldn’t recognize the futility in clinging to something that no longer meant anything to anyone but her– and thus, no-one at all.

It broke his heart just once but was all he needed.

She stilled in her sleep. No longer twitching. He’d have another two or three hours before they’d be apart long enough for the twitching night-terrors to restart. He held her anyway. Tight against him for warmth, emitting what little remained in him.

He wasn’t doing a good enough job. He knew that much.

He rested his head on the straw-stuffed sacks they’d collected to call a bed. The distant drip drip, DROP of leaky infrastructure echoed from somewhere too far off to care, but not enough to ignore. Often enough he welcomed the tempo it gave to his thoughts.

Not tonight though. Tonight was just dripping randomosity, chaos incarnate to mirror the rest of the world. Or maybe, simply, to act as an extension of it.

In the mornings he’d often wake to find her sitting, staring into the distance. No doubtthe tragedies she’d seen replayed in her mind. For as many times as he’d seen her bony spine through her ratty clothing, he’d seen memory torture her face.

He tried to comfort her once, but she shied just enough. This, and daytime, weren’t what he was needed for. Only night. And only so she might sleep peacefully.

It stung, but he obliged without hesitation.

She’d spoken a little that first night he found her on the rooftop, ready to jump. He wasn’t sure she’d been all that lucid. She was wounded, mortally. At least for the skills of a child. He put a tourniquet above her wounded leg, tied it off, set the bone and stitched the skin. Skills he’d learned somewhere through life but couldn’t place.

It was poorly done, but it kept her alive.

She’d cried wet rivers of tears, and not oneaudibly. She made no sound, sob, or screamof pain, however much he’d promised she could Whatever she’d been through was worse. He couldn’t begrudge her the strength she’d gained, but he could hate that she’d been forced to gain it.

What little he’d gotten out of her was like pulling teeth. He’d let her rest for a few days before trying again. He’d only bothered the first time ‘round to keep her mind off her bone pain. Over a few nights, he got the general gist of things. Most of which centered around the chaotic global war and rebellion.

Everybody knew the madness was under a smokescreen. The media corporations and companies had aggressively taken-over or quashed any attempts at remaining “free-press”. Freedom of information no longer existed beyond a theoretical (and outlawed) concept. Information was now being held hostage, even by the so-called “good guys.”

Fact was, they both knew, no-one was good anymore. There was “bad,” and “less bad.” He wasn’t sure which he was, but hoped the latter, for her sake. She felt the same, though never admitted it.

No-one knew the true causes of the battles, the wars, the attacks. Just that they were happening. Orwell didn’t want his name anywhere near this clusterfuck. Who could blame him? Evidently, she felt the same, if only because she might now believe such parts of her, name included, were dead.

Probably because they were. Along with her parents. Her friends. Any hopes or dreams she had of ever living a normal existence.

It was another normal morning when she spoke again. Normal of course, being relative. By now, everyone living knew that much. The point remained valid in his mind.

“We need to leave this place.”

He wasn’t sure he’d heard her right– or at all.Rather, it felt as if he’d thought her words in his own mind. But how? It was impossible.

Nonetheless, the severity of her statement was witnessed in the few, meager packs at her feet.

“We can’t go anywhere. They’re looking everywhere for anyone able to fight or–”

Don’t finish the thought.”

It definitely came from his own mind. Her mouth hadn’t moved. Had he lost it somewhere in the process? No. It had to be her. Somehow. He didn’t know how, but he knew.

She gripped his hand, forced a pack into it. He moved to protest, but her eyes met his.

One echo in his mind ordered and pled at-once, “please.”

His eye twitched disbelief, allowing her to usher him along with what remained of their valuables– bare necessities of few toiletries, a half-molded scrap of bread, and a pack of canned non-perishables. She’d already layered her few clothing articles collected for colder nights, presumably having packed his away.

Before he’d regained his wits, they were far beyond the drainage outlet they’d take refuge in. Its massive, grated gate, easily picked and re-locked, had been left askew. They wouldn’t be coming back. Not surprising, but how had her voice done that? Was it him? Was it her? Was she really there at all?

Such questions need answers,” her voice echoed within him. “But now’s not the time. We must get as far away as possible. Now.”

He shook off the last of his confusion and stopped, hand held in hers as she’d led him forward. “No.” She didn’t hesitate, just simply tugged him onward until he went no further. Then, she released him and turned to look upward, “There. Wait.”

He whirled ‘round, “I don’t–”

You will.”

He waited, staring at the empty blue sky, wishing its weren’t just more of the smokescreen.

Then, he saw it: like a dart thrown from Olympus, streaking white smoke and rocketing toward their newly-vacated hideaway.

His eyes lit up, body lurched to shield her. It was pointless.

The missile struck the former hideout. Rubble gravitated inward then back out with a shockwave of heat and G-forces that rag-dolled them across the dusty ground. He landed winded and coughing, scrambling to find her another in the sudden cloud. She found him first, doubled over a rock, wracked with dry breaths that didn’t wish to come. He’d broken half his ribs, knew the feeling too well. It would kill him if he weren’t careful.

She forced him flat, then knelt beside him, hands over his battered abdomen. A minor flicker of light, like heat, emanated from her hands and into him.

“They’re hunting us now. All of us. You’ve helped me and they know. The things I’ve seen, what I can do, have me marked for a fate worse than death. You’ve been kind to me, so I will tell you there is much you do not know, but if your virtue is as it seems, you’ll learn the rest in time.”

She removed her hands and the pain was gone. He breathed normally: broken ribs, mended.

“Wh– how’d–”

“Once,” she said gravely. “They called us Seers. Now, we are the Hunted. And they, the Hunters.”

Something mechanical screamed past overhead, beyond the dust cloud still descending.

“Come, they’ll check for bodies soon. If we’re caught, they’ll spare us no horror.”

He pushed himself up, determined to follow, but confused. “How d’you–”

“It’s why the want me. I do not know anymore than you, save that we must counter them. Be the reaction to their action. That means leaving. Now.”

She led him forward at a brisk walk, but he’d already left his body, was following on instinct. He wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into, if the girl could ever be safe. Or now, him with her.

He shouldered his pack, damned determined to ensure she was. Even if to his last dying breath. Such was the nature of love.

Guardians of Liberty: Part 18

18.

Cat and Mouse

N1T3 was running. Again. He’d probably lost somewhere on the order of 10 kilos in the last few days. He was also quite certain one of his arteries was beginning to clog, or had some structural weakness of a kind. It was hurting more with each run, like it was giving out.

His message had been as innocuous as possible– and Daniel Ozell responded exactly the over-blown way a taunted bully on a bad day might.

In the end, N1T3 knew, that’s all any of his kind were– the corporate types, their loyalists. Most simply used money in place of fists. Fists remained involved though. Especially for the decision-makers, the BoDs and Execs. Of course, it was easier to pay others to do the beatings than spend their own energy. Easier on the knuckles, too.

For puppeteers, those were important assets.

N1T3’s message said few words, but its subtext was obvious; “Cat and mouse now; Find me. Find you. Who draws first blood? You didn’t yet. Bravo.”

He left the message on the net, exposing its post-point blatantly, and started running.

Ozell needed something. Anything. If only to stall. No-one was ready yet. Even Ozell himself. If he’d been ready to do what was needed of him, he’d have killed $trydr and Dru. Among other things, it meant he hadn’t chosen sides. Not yet. His son was what mattered.

His son, and now finding the man that threatened him.

Good.

N1T3 left him a bread-crumb because he needed it. Ozell needed a win. Power. N1T3 had some, didn’t want it, saw an opportunity to disseminate it. Ozell wouldn’t see it that way yet, but N1T3 and the others did.

So, N1T3 was running. Fleeing. Somewhere behind him, Ozell was fuming, raging, sniffing out his scent to hunt him down. His system demanded it. Just as it had demanded everything else thus far. That same system Ozell fed and lived off, put the bullet in Anisa Blanc’s back, set fire to her corpse, then stayed Ozell’s hand against Dru and Riter. The same system currently hunting N1T3 on a death warrant.

Who wouldn’t be running?

N1T3’s next safehouse he knew equally well as the first. It wasn’t much. Just a hovel out of the way. A former apartment, on a derelict corner, in one more rundown, abandoned area. Once more river-side, though not as secluded, yet obscured by emptiness.

Riter’s diversion had taught him an important thing; London was nowhere near flat. Storm-sewers ran everywhere, interconnected not only with rivers and one-another, but also linked to the suburbs– like city-states, but smaller, more-guarded. At least, for a flat-landers’ entrance by air or land.

But N1T3 had sewers.

Problem was, useful as that intel was, he couldn’t use it yet. He needed to get hidden, stop moving. If Ozell caught him in the sewers, he’d be gunned down before the time was ripe. What needed to would never take place.

N1T3 focused elsewhere to block out pain in his legs and chest, follow his gut toward his destination. He was glad to have squandered most of his sense of smell on youthful excess. The air had grown thicker, and though he couldn’t smell it, he tasted rotting water in gritty air on his tongue.

He focused on “home;” the place was stocked. Good. It would take time for the cat to sniff him out. Nothing could be done about it but wait, run if needed.

His feet splattered mixes of Human and Earthen refuse, a backwash of civilization spilling in little-by-little on floodwaters into its own bowels. N1T3 was immune to the sound, the distant squeals of rats, rumbling roads and piping– encroaching civilization that said he was getting closer.
The roads themselves were still used. Most of the mains, anyway. His new digs would be a pair of blocks up and over; by his estimate, five or six more manholes forward and one or two down the mainline.

He slowed, maneuvering his way through darkness with echolocation and footfalls. His wet shoes plodded shallow streams that felt more homely the longer her traversed them. Ozell would’ve called him “a rat in its natural habitat.”

He smiled.

He wasn’t a rat, of course, but baiting a cat into chasing another cat was too risky. Too different an approach was required for the subtlety of predatorial-hunts. Ozell himself might’ve been acting on predator-predator instincts, but his system was forcing him to act on predator-prey instincts. Even he knew discrepancy of such kind was pointless. If he hadn’t, he’d have long ago abandoned the mantle of corp-sec for more promising ventures.

What kept him around wasn’t hope for fulfillment, it was obligation. Likely, to honor those closest to him through it. N1T3 knew that of Ozell, as he knew it of all, postdigital children.

Like Society, whether Ozell accepted himself as part of Humanity or not, didn’t matter. It was immutable. The damage being done was harming itself as much as its victims. Accepting or not, it was happening.

Those were the stakes. N1T3 knew it. As everyone else did. Even Ozell’s masters. Even if buried so deeply it resembled the ancient skeletons of their first dead, it remained as immutable as the law it represented. The problem wasn’t the people though, it was what the system did to them.

But systems could be changed. Ozell needed to learn that first hand. He needed to know the game was rigged from the start, because the system was controlled by its own, self-made rules. Ones written by long-dead men and wanton cheats, never exposed to the concepts of technology, instant and global communication, or mass-dissemination of information.

Ozell knew that, or had the capacity to. N1T3 had seen it in his eyes: in that cold moment of deadened panic before reflex took over. That instant of deer in the headlights before turning master manipulator, the flit from prey to apex-predator.

Ozell knew how things stood and obligation told him not to care. Obligation alone.

That was the essence of the postdigital struggle. Every hacker knew it, on some level or another. Some just weren’t programmers. They couldn’t see the inherent programmability in organization, its structure. The subject or method of organization didn’t matter– Stage IV civilizations might stabilize entropy, after all. Nothing wasn’t off the table if Tech, Science, and Humanity progressed far enough together.

Knowing for certain wasn’t possible yet, but getting to that point of knowing was.

100,000s of years of potential Human progress ahead, and yet even the tech available to N1T3 could lead to immortality given a slight synthesis with the Human body. What was the harm if that body’s life-span rose astronomically or disappeared altogether to become universal, eternal?

N1T3 saw none. In fact, he was so certain of the post-human certainty, he’d ensured he’d go to his death having done his part to speed the process. If not for himself, then those he cared for– and all like him that would come later.

Above all, he did it not from obligation, but love, kinship, and hope.

N1T3 pushed his way up from a manhole into darkness. Nearby enough could be heard the sounds of life, but its distance made it impossible to see. At that, it was mostly auto-cars, the last of the courier drivers of manuals.

Soon enough, they’d be outlawing that, too.

N1T3 took a deep breath and fought the cover back in place. He made mental note of its weight, how long it might take to lift if fleeing. The leverage from beneath was easier than above. If he had to run, it could trap him.

Seconds. Breaths. Heartbeats. These were the tempos of life and death now.

He’d have to find a better entrance. The place was never ideal, that’s what the pier was for, and his shack atop the office-building. Even as he made his way up the few steps to the rundown doorway, he was double-checking the area, listening carefully. He waited until certain he was alone, then pushed the door open.

The converted building exactly as left; a large, bi-level home, divided well into four flats. From outside, it looked twenty-years abandoned. Then again, it’d looked that way for somewhere on the order of 30 years now.

It wasn’t eye-catching or well-known. Rather, it was obscure, innocently placed. A place of history and mystery N1T3 had felt attracted to since first seeing it as a child. The sort of attraction that told one of a place, moment, or person of importance, like the first meeting of an old-friend-to-be.

He slipped in. The place remained stocked, undisturbed. The flat he’d secured, near the upper-rear, was sectioned off and reinforced. Its windows were entirely blacked out, its power expertly spliced and hidden.

It was the best, last hope of remaining safely hidden. Regardless of how long that lasted, it needed to be up to snuff.

The light dimmed as he stepped in and flipped it on, stabbing his gut with the sign of things to come.

His servers were pulling more power than usual. Bad voltage. A shorted line, probably. Or a converter or conditioner. That meant a special supply run…

But getting to Ket would be impossible. She’d be next on Ozell’s shit-list. He might even survive it– if he wasn’t stupid enough to fuck with her. If not, well… she had connections, and the need to make examples. Above all, she was untouchable.

Even Ozell would be forced to bow.

If Riter and Dru had been mail-armored; Ket was layered in force-fields and body armor so futuristic it made Ozell’s State-of-the-Art Corp-Sec ceramics look like boys playing war in cardboard.

Fucking with her, fucked him.

*

Ozell lingered at the door, forced to wait. He needed a different touch here. Corp-sec’s castration at Riter’s had been enough to check their ego. They didn’t want this one broadcast. Not this one. They didn’t want it known what was happening now: that an off-the-books black-market dealer with fingers in every industries pies, and some of her own, was their last best hope.

They didn’t want people knowing Martin Black was being chased, hunted, that he had sympathizers, allies, and was continually evading them.

Most of all, they didn’t want the war being waged to be known yet.

As ridiculous as it felt, Ozell could do nothing. Not yet. He needed more before he could dick the Corps or Black that much. He had power but not enough. Not yet. N1T3 and his allies were exposing every weakness the corps had left to any and all onlookers. And as deftly and swiftly as possible. Seemingly, for no other reason than to show they could.

Corp-sec couldn’t put them down yet. Not with Anisa Blanc’s images still fresh in mind. They had to know what the hell was going on too. Blanc’s charred corpse. Ozell’s .40 caliber slug. Its wounds.

A flash of memory. A squeeze. Blanc crumpling forward. Slow-motion fall of shock from overloaded nerves. Still-fleeting terror in her face trembling over those last, rasping gasps.

The door opened. He fanned his men out around the perimeter. He wasn’t stupid. He knew Se’Ket. She’d long been on the tongue of every corp-sec commander. She was a Sphinx. A walking riddle, enigmatic in every sense.

And an absolute bombshell.

She stood like some Egyptian Goddess of her namesake’s land. Her chestnut hair streamed down the shoulders of her thin, flowing clothing like fine-drapery. Full-bodied shapes hinted themselves in the edges of her clothing, accenting perfect hips and breasts but hiding everything else as a come-hither for all to see but none to achieve.

None but Black. How he’d done it, Ozell’d never know. Married or not, and affiliations aside, he’d have pinned her to a bed and never stopped given half a chance. Or, if she were so inclined, allowed her the same. He knew too, he’d have loved every second of it.

That’s how she was; modern day legend. Mythical. Damn-near perfect.

She was also one of the most well-known, wanted criminals alive. No-one had proof of course, but no-one needed it. If something was going on somewhere, Se’Ket knew about it. If someone needed something, so long as the price was met, they got it. At some point, all of those transactions went through her.

Yet she was so much more.

Any pursuit for her was a facade. Everyone knew it. Ozell’d never met her before, but he knew her well enough by reputation. He also knew how to cut through bullshit. In her case, it didn’t leave much behind, but was enough for a vague image.

Ket was the same age as her former lover, Martin Black. They’d met in school, fallen madly in love, then aggressively out again. Ever since, she’d been floating from one mate to another, searching. For what, Ozell doubted she knew.

In the course of that floating, she met people. Using her nature and flagrant sexuality to cultivate connections. By 20, she was running drugs, guns, goods, anything. White, gray, black didn’t matter either. Money was the object.

Ozell admired her for that alone.

He knew what she was, why; as all predators knew their willing prey. Or would-be willing, he noticed as the door opened and she appraised him.

“We will speak privately or not at all.”

He eyed his nearest man– a woman named Michelle; all the same in armor, and nodded.

Ket led him in, to the fountain in the front room now stretched out like an accordion dressing wall with its surroundings decorated for a boudoir showing. The theme was something of ancient nature and sex meeting modern technology. Hints of granite and marble inflected themselves in shadow; lime and sandstone in the neutral warmth. Added to and reinvigorated by the sprightly ivy and verdant plant-life otherwise hung about, the fountain was everything N1T3 could have dreamed.

In that moment, Ozell knew everything and nothing.

Foremost, he knew all of the rumors about her were true. Somehow each was true, no matter their contradictions. He knew it in a heart-beat. It could be no other way with a creature so unbound. He knew, too, she was one of the unparalleled beauties. Even in her ruthlessness, she had the art of subtlety; in the gore of the kill, she had predatory grace.

Beyond everything else though, he knew being part of corp-sec meant one day putting a bullet in her. Trying to. Challenging this force of nature… a force he’d be have to extinguish or bottle. At least, attempting to.

It was impossible. He knew it even now. One could no more extinguish a force of nature than pull a star from the sky. He wasn’t sure which Ket was, but he felt her pull. He needed to know what she knew. Needed her. If only for a moment. And if only for a hint of understanding, of proper stimulation.

He never expected to walk away a changed man, but such was her power.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Lean Upon the Wicked

Lean upon the wicked.
Trod upon the lame.
Chase them through the thicket.
Hang them without name.
If judgment comes to call,
say it was a game.

This is the creed of a motherless breed.
This is the soul-darkened human seed.
This is the eyrie of an immoral steed,
pregnant upon invirtuous deed.

Death is on your ticket.
Freedom’s in your name.
Never can be resown.
We fight but not in vain.
Eyes and minds alight.
And burning as one flame.

This is the song, of a petulant need.
This is the cry, that we cannot concede.
This is a wound, borne of gluttonous greed,
bending like, unbroken reed.

Cry of the fallen.
Breath of the flame.
Forget the calling.
Strike without shame.
For when at last,
the flotsam’s gone to claim,
and tidal waves roll,
cling to the innocents
and not your goal.

This is the sigh of the chaos gone by,
This is the reel of impossible cry.
This is the sound of the freewheel afly,
remembered long past the day that we die.

VIN26- The Best “Worst” Decision

We all have wishes. Skee-Lo had the most, at least in the publicized market. I had the second, but mine was written in words across pages invisible to all. Even if they hadn’t been, it was doubtful anyone would have found them. Even then, they’d never have enjoyed them.
It was simple mathematics, really. Take the amount of people in the world, multiplied by the amount of non-Skee-Lo wishes, then divided by each level of exclusion required to reach them.
In my case, that was invisible pages, requiring active readers, whom would not only ferret them out, but also enjoy them. Recursion that deep requires consideration.
But it happened. All of those infinitesimally small chances, and it happened.
What the fuck was I thinking?

Initially, It was from loss. Something I needed to do. Music had failed… sort of. Then, anyhow. I knew my body was too damaged and my spirit too wounded to do anything else. So, I tried to heal. Not knowing I was seeking to heal.
My dumb-ass went and put pen to paper.

For non-writers: the feeling of writing is intoxicating. It is more than a drug. It is like missing a crucial part of your genetic material and needing to supplement it with lifelong therapy. It is my theory that writers are Bodhisattvas: that we were the first to be reborn as Human, and needed to identify one another.
So, we began writing.
Only then, because we knew it would take lifetimes to make work, could we begin to understand that it was us, ourselves, that were the Bodhis now. Those old stories, their Buddhas, had already ascended the Godly realms. We were last in line, but richer for it, because we’d get to share all that extra time with the rest of this existence.
Righteous.
Wicked. Righteous.

The point I assume in this theory is that we are all building toward Enlightenment, Nirvana, or the Liberation from samsara. The cycle of Birth, Dying and Death, and Rebirth. It has put all of us, through the aforementioned, nearer to attaining that.
Seeing that, understanding that, is the way forward for Humanity and each of us as individuals.
Now, at every turn, the systems we’ve built around us to aid this are working against us. Justice is unjust. Corruption is purity. Fleas are jumping ship, yet the bridge isn’t burning. All the same, we know the waters are disturbed there’s a smell about there air. Something bigger is afoot.

Vermin fear predators.

I remember a story about a rally cry being heard in the distance at war-time. The village nearby immediately mustered its defenses and revealed its number. The rally never came. Days later, an army thousands strong had been amassed to encircle the village. They surrendered wholesale.
“Deception is the Art of War,” so sayeth Sun Tzu.
“Justice is blind,” retorts Lady Liberty.
Neither is wrong, yet others still bleed. It hurts somewhere. Deep. Even if we don’t care… we do. Even when we have every reason, rhyme, and conviction in the world not to, we do. Deep down. That is the condition: Human. The soul. The conscience. It is the effect of violation in that which is otherwise your norm and comfort.
No matter how comfortable you pretend to be with it, how much you smother it, it remains.

Becoming a writer was one of the best, worst-decisions of my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Short Story: Sodden Holo

Sopping mud trails formed miniature canyons in the streets. As if some precise giant had dug slender fingers into the Earth between sections and sides of town. Carts, wagons, their beasts of burden, and all other manner of creatures formed them.

Their sopping troughs were scattered about town between what little remained of eroded, patchwork-cobble. What remained of once-prominent holographic projectors and neon signs glowed and flickered dimly advertising everything from taverns to seamstresses, buds to brothels. The opaque movements of a thousand different advertisements and static signs belched Technicolor light onto stone and rotting-wood.

That disease of neglect, civic abandonment, stretched across the almost-forgotten township.

But within Sodden Holo, it was the Empire that was forgotten. Life was squalor, no doubt, but squalor of a kind with charm and routine. The type only available when living in freedom, without a mythical force beyond the realm to oppress. Because it cared not for them nor they for it, they were passive.

Then the caravan came.

They’d holed up outside town two days before anyone attempted contact. Then, sent a trio of armed men to the tavern. They wore black and green and gold, and asked questions. Many questions. Gruffly and rudely: on where to secure supplies, seek shelter, the names of prominent men and women and aldermen.

Already these vectors of disease had begun to infect, spread. Money. The stranglehold. They’d throw it around, hoping to mesmerize or hypnotize. Great mounds of it. Gold, silver, copper– jewels even. They’d trade anything, had everything or access to it. Like any siege engine, if allowed, that money-disease would go to work breaking down walls.

Fact was, people in Sodden Holo didn’t much care for money or the Empires. They gummed up the works, but were not seen as evil. Money in particular was no evil, but rather another tool to barter with. As equal to that of gold or silver in the eyes of the trader and their desire.

This was the Empires’ new kind of war. One of economics. For hearts, minds. Not permanent, but enough to quell the fringes ready to rise in revolt. As in every iteration of civilization, it was yet another overlord’s controls. The Empires, when it mattered most, lavished wealth upon people like confetti, but only for adoration’s sake. Never stability’s.

People furthest from the constant influx of money– Empirical capitals and the like– were beginning to piece that together. Money however, when it could not quell the occasionally rising tempers, gave excuse for lashing-out against one’s own people.

Times were that every Human was an island and ruler unto their self. Between then and now, it had become painfully clear that was no longer the plan for greater Humanity. Some people were allowed that, sure: rulers, mostly. The other 99 times out of 100, they weren’t. About 85 of those 99 meant being smeared in shit and grime the rest of one’s life regardless of those privileged few.

That was Humanity’s choice. Long made in a world far-longer gone. In a time and people that no longer existed. Human-Social had given way, violently, to Human-Servile. Whatever side one chose, the bitter reality was clear: servitude was undeniably its base.

Whether serving the wealthy, their associates, their system of wealth-creation, or anyone else therein, it was impossible not to be beneath someone.

But that was a world and way of thinking long-off for Sodden Holo. Neither glamour nor shine existed there, technicolor belches notwithstanding, save on the local boot-black’s corner. How could it? Half the town was streaked in mud all the warmer months, frozen over the rest. It knew of life in the colors of grit and grime, the scents of grass and cow shit.

In short, through the ways of the land, its inhabitants, their effects on it.

For those passing through, it was obvious this was a land separate, but governed. Whomever did the governing, they knew, did it well enough so the only signs of civic neglect were the roads the Holo could not repair without all-important and scarcematerials traded mostly by Empirical quartermasters or tradesmen. It was a way of strangle-holding the people from establishing Empires without their knowledge.

But progress was inexorable. Its tide could not be diverted forever, nor without constant attention to details, lest the dam crack asunder.

Yet time and people marched on. Roads appeared. Trails. All of them, it seemed, led through Sodden Holo– at some point. Distant or rare as it was for some, it was undeniable.

They were a crossroads hub, but not the kind one thought of lightly. Rather, it was one all travelers ended up in by misfortune. It didn’t judge. Nor did its people. But they, like it, knew it was no-one’s intended stop. Yet that need not mean a traveler feel unduly unwelcome either.

They took no quarter for the worst of atrocities, of course, like most decent folk. Only when bitten did the hand that fed, strike out though. Especially against those most unforgivably biting. What Dante might have termed, “Treason against one’s benefactors.” To that, such punishments never came unduly, nor ever with malice but meant to correct.

That didn’t mean it couldn’t turn bloody.

In hindsight, people came to realize, that was what the Empire had underestimated. That people wouldn’t give it the same disregard it gave them. They’d sent a caravan of Empirical guards to enact a trade-war on a free economy. Rather than send ambassadors to join or appraise it, they sought to take it by force, with nary a thought to those effected.

Hindsight couldn’t change those effects.

Their intent became apparent the second day the envoy visited town– fifth since their appearance overall. It was raining. A typical persistent and swampy mist citizens and drifters had come to expect of Sodden Holo, its surroundings: warm, and smelling of earthen protection rising from the very ground beneath their feet.

Reason had left most of those in the pubs. Meanwhile, the tension of the envoy’s encampment, brewing since its appearance, had soured and afouled a great many moods.

The air was rife with power. As those trembling within the tavern were well-aware, it was a power no mortal dared tempt. All it would take to set the power alight was the wrong actions within it. The wrong minds, the type that cared not for maintaining peace or others’ ways.

Five of them entered the tavern. Two remained near the door, guarding ‘til further orders. Two more escorted a third between them. He was tall, scrawny. Spectacles perched on his face, he looked and moved like an old Eagle– perpetually down-looking, on the hunt.

He approached the bar, calling for the tender to procure the manager.

The tender laughed, “You dunno how things work a-roun’ ‘ere.”

His tone sharpened, “I beg your pardon?”

“No. You don’t. You come in ‘ere with your bloody gold and silver, try to buy the place. Why else would you lot come in, all pompous, clutchin’ that ledger like some kind’a King bout to lay his prick on the bar?

“I ain’ sellin you nor your dogs another drink ‘til I get some answers. I been Alderman of Sodden Holo, twen’y years. Empires never given us the time’a day. Never answered our letters or requests for help.

“All the same, we get by. ‘Cause we hav’ta. You come in here, wanna lay your prick on my bar like I don’t know what’s bout to happen. But I’m tellin you, I’ve seen prick-whippin’ enough times I can sense it a mile off.”

The shrewd man’s face snarled. The bar was deathly silent. The tender eyed the two ruffians beside him; former mercs, paid better as Empirical Guardsmen for their skill in battle. These were not men to be lightly crossed.

The tender’s face hardened at hints of blood-lust on the air. The power had turned. Sodden Holo would soon be bathed in blood.

“You g’wan and put your prick out, mister. ‘N I’ll make sure to cut it to size for you.”

A hiss. “The nerve!

Someone screamed. Metal clashed. The power erupted, releasing ferocity across the tavern. Chaos of bodies and limbs flayed. Blood sprayed. An all-out melee began and ended within seconds. By the end, the bar stank of blood and bowels, beneath echoing screams from dying and injured.

The Alderman-Tender was busy bandaging a gash in a woman’s arm when he called to, “Raze the Envoy’s camp. Leave nothing standing!”

Every man and woman capable would need to be ready. The Empire would be coming.

The tender looked over the ruins of his bar, knowing for the better of all he should have sold out. But if he had, what would be left of him to help his people, his home? The Empire was not the way forward for Sodden Holo, that much had always been obvious.

But would there be any way forward now? He wasn’t sure.

Unable to dwell, he moved on, too swept up in doing what he knew all would soon be doing: preparing for war.

Guardians of Liberty: Part 17

17.

Facing Facts

There was never a doubt in N1T3’s mind he’d have to leave the pier. It was always a question of time. Even in the complete absence of any otherwise, luck was on his side; the drones clued him in first. He’d just left the firehouse, having said goodbyes final enough given one nearby sunrise or another.

Until then, he’d be running. He didn’t know it yet.

As the fates had deigned his running before, they deigned this as well. Whether anyone knew it or not, those fates were twins of balance; the yin and yang, positive and negative, 0 and 1. They were the binary manifestation of that fragile, frail line between life and death.

Duality aside, it was a bad time. N1T3 was just past the first sewer-entrance when he heard the second drone. Unmasked. Full-tilt roaring. Something louder far off. Bio-diesel idle; like a cat at-loaf, but headed for Riter’s place.

He’d guessed Ozell would find the connection. It was the only response. Eye for an eye. That’s what his system demanded. Governments could never have been so brutal. They relied on the people to fuel them. Corporations didn’t. They relied on money, and everyone had a price.

Ozell wasn’t working for governments. He wasn’t even working for sentient beings. He was the organic appendage of a system whose sole intent for him was murder, extortion, peace and order through force. He was a hammer, and not of justice and peace, as promised in the brochures.

Everyone knew that about Corp-sec, its people. On some level, all acknowledged it. Even if only to laugh from upon mountains. People knew it as reality. N1T3 and Ozell most assuredly. They knew the game being played and their places in it.

His eyes and reactions, voice and nonchalance had told it. Daniel Ozell was a cold-blooded killer. N1T3 knew something crucial most did not though: that it did not make him any less worthy of anything any other normal person deserved.

Daniel Ozell was not evil. Evil did not exist. Not beyond the referential frame of the I/O switch– in this case, a person’s perspective. An actuator could not be evil. It required outside forces to turn it from anything other than inert switch. In that, its turning was temporary and 2-positioned, fore and back. On or off. 0 or 1.

Like most organized systems, society was programmable. N1T3 knew that. Ozell knew it. Most hackers did. Hackers existed on levels of reference between their two lives; the R-L and digital ones. In Ozell’s case, N1T3 surmised, that digital world was simply a fantasy-world of misconceptions, mistakings of technology for magic.

Existence had changed. It was now a world of avatars, imagination, bliss, and paradise. Tailored to one’s changing desires as instantly or intuitively as desired. What N1T3 knew that Ozell did not however, was that Hackers didn’t have to be programmers.

The first Earth-grown hackers were bacteria. Plain. Organic. Beneath analog.

Chemical hackers, managing to be better than the rest. That was it. Evolution and adaptation were their systems, as N1T3’s servers were his. The primordial soup’s descendants were hackers using physical advantages to ensure their system of life continued to function, patching and debugging as they went along.

But the first manifestations of evolution were not the first of programming.

Programming, incidental or not, was required by the very forces it manipulated. Whether that programming was accessible by the program itself (ie, Humanity) or something greater, didn’t matter. Humanity didn’t want to know how to program itself. Especially not that easily.

N1T3 was so certain of it, he was banking everything on showing them how desperately they needed to know.

But Hackers, real ones, always lived as needed. Never wanted.

Hacking– the process of examining a system’s structure for flaws, and attempting to exploit or patch it– made inherent, systemic fallibility acceptable. Security was less important overall than stability, especially on scales of social systems.

Every hacker knew the system deserved consideration, even if only to gauge whether its repair or upgrade could be reasonably accommodated. Otherwise, it was easier to simply re-write or re-build the project from the ground up, consigning its remnants to bit-recycling.

In the modern world though, that was impossible. Even “model Humans” worked mediocre jobs punching keys for corp-creds, slaves to systems erasing them at a ripple out of place, not needing them otherwise, and paying them pittances in the meantime. The few crossover wage-slaves between extremes of the loyal/not spectrum were always looking to jump-ship, and did so whenever possible.

Those ship-jumpers though, were very real and important digital spines. They were Human, and Humanity through it. Its security and future. The system would cop-it entirely without them– as a matter of when, not if.

Unfortunately, Wage-lords cared only for how much the system could squeeze for them.

So the jumpers jumped; in droves. Then groups. Then ones and twos at a time.

N1T3 never had to. Simply by virtue of his place during the turbulence. Yet, like the others, he’d been building himself up. The difference was, his currency was ideas. Powerful ideas. More than that, ideas that could allow for indefinite, Human existence. Especially if they turned out to be natural facts somehow, or essences to life– proverbs even. They lived as only the paradoxical reality of information allowed, both forgotten and unknown, yet universal and ubiquitous. All of it never-ending.

After all, even heat-death cannot erase its own cause. Even if no-one exists to know it.

Americans had lost their chances at bloodless rebellion after a century’s blindness to encroaching reality. Combating and eradicating a corrupting infestation was near-impossible once entrenched. Worse, was the American system’s over-saturation of it.

Economic and ideological slime oozed from American markets, as Globally infectious as a bilious sewage-beast of Lovecraftian proportion excreting for all but the few within its festered putrescence. It couldn’t be allowed to happen here, too.

N1T3 had watched America closely. Precisely long enough to know where they were headed. He had to. It was only afterward he could check his predictions against reality, use them as benchmarks for the insanity to come.

Time and again, his musings and postulations of the American take-over came to pass. Time and again he drew logical lines, seeing them replayed in later, contemporary events. He repeatedly applied known systems of greed and scheming to facets of modern American life and economics; estimating outcomes to draw further, logical conclusions.

Where he and reality wound up were nearer together than any would have liked.

Humanity was a social species. No matter how much it wished not to be. Cannibalizing itself was simply the effect of a starving, multi-tailed lizard taking one or two bites to stave off death. It made sense, but the situation was never so dire to begin with.

There were better ways.

That, N1T3 knew. As most Humans did, whether aware or not. They had to. How else could such reality manifest in N1T3 himself, his so-called kind– the networked, neural consciousness of society, if not?

The answer was obvious. So obvious, he wasn’t certain why he’d bothered in the first place. He knew why he’d been driven to act. That was people like Ozell’s bosses; execs, CEOs, BoDs pursuing bottom-lines. What motivated others to allow them to go so far was what mystified him.

But he’d had to know, to understand.

N1T3 learned best through sacrifice, trauma. Self-inflicted or otherwise. His own numbness to those things, their ability to reflect others’ compassion, required he understand how blind they were to their own pain. It was only after going too far taking advantage of it that he’d begun to feel true pain. Not only his own but, he recognized later, that of every postdigital child.

Once revealed, he could tend to it.

Although none of it made others’ motivations clearer, it cemented his enough that they no longer mattered. That was all once more put to the test with Ozell’s arrival overhead. Unfortunately, it was one of his vulnerable moments.

Vulnerable however, did not mean impotent.

He let the militant convoy roll past overhead. A pair of drone squadrons buzzed and hissed through town. Even a few years ago, it would’ve caused an uproar.

No-one was left to get in an uproar now though. No-one but Riter, the firehouse…. and N1T3.

N1T3 broke into a run, slapping across trickled sewer-water. He didn’t have much time. He’d need to be home and acted before they left Riter’s. He was already hacking $trydr’s back-door server; the one used for personal messages and configured specifically for N1T3.

Nothing sinister, merely privileged.

None of it would stop Ozell from hassling– even murdering, Riter and Dru. N1T3 just hoped $trydr’s better sense prevailed.

*

It took all of Ozell’s strength not to kick the motherfucking door down. He prized himself on his strengths. Even Terry Riter, the fucking weasel, knew it was a feat he didn’t. All the same, something arrogant beneath his surface took residence.

Ozell allowed it; the body-cams were rolling. Everyone knew it was an episode of Bloodbath-Friday brewing. The girl was utterly unfazed. It was that which convinced Ozell he might be killed, if not careful.

Dru’s eyes were as open as her dossier. Ozell sensed her mind, knew it as N1T3 did– as he himself might have, given different circumstances. Kinship stirred in him. Not from her eyes, but something deeper. Something he’d felt with Kay before…

He stiffened, knowing immediately and exactly how things had to go. He fanned his teams out, “Secure the perimeter. Remember, we’re here for Black.”

Dru and Riter were already in the garage, meeting Ozell there. He stayed his team outside.

“Where is he?”

Riter spoke, “Gone.”

All the same, Dru didn’t need to speak. Ozell knew he’d killed her friend, had come to take another. He knew she’d been hurt more than anyone, through circumstance. Had and would be, by him. He wasn’t about to threaten her mate. Rather than being out of his nature, it was suicidal.

Hackers were predators. Digital predators of systems, largely, but predators. Ozell knew that. He was one. The prey they chose, their methods of hunting, was the only determinant near the connotations of good or evil.

If he’d been a programmer, Ozell knew, he’d have seen the 0s and 1s that led to their logic. Even if he wasn’t and didn’t, Martin Black was his order. These two’s time would come, but not here. Not today. Not with him. Ozell didn’t need them. He’d get all he wanted with Black’s head.

Before tonight, he might’ve even let Black live. But even predators have predators. They’re they apex. The super-predators. If either Corps or Hackers were to make him a frame job, they’d have to see what it took.

He made a hand-motion, “Search the place. I want Black. Nothing else. Fuck around and answer to my boot.”

Riter sneered, “Noble of you.”

“What’d he want, Riter?”

“The same thing we all want, Commander: Freedom.”

Ozell stepped closer, the frenzied search ignored by intruder and host alike. “I’ll ignore aiding and abetting a fugitive if you cooperate now.”

“But I am cooperating, Commander,” he said eying the place, its moving bodies.

Ozell’s jaw tightened. He glanced around. The massive workshop hid an untold number of crevices, nooks, alcoves, crannies, and crevices. Each one needed only a pinhole for surveillance.

Problem with bloodbaths was, unless contained and presented properly, they spilled out.

That knowledge, and Ozell’s gut, confirmed two things; There was no excuse for blood here, and Terry Riter was broadcasting every frame to his servers and the net through them. It might as well have been live news at nine.

Ozell leaned close, “Threaten my son again, and I will cut your throat with her dead hand.”

Despite knowing the raging creature beside Riter was ready to gore him, Ozell didn’t flinch. As before, he was being clear: Eye for an eye.

Beyond that, no shots needed be fired. Not yet. That could change, likely would.

But nothing mattered to Daniel Ozell, the man, more than his son, Paul. No matter the stakes, if anyone came within a hair’s breadth of harming him, he would kill more coldly and efficiently than any Human before him, leaving the remains as evidence and warning. Exactly as Dru would do for Riter; or he for her.

It was a Human threat, real. Impersonal. Riter gave only the slightest hint of acknowledgment in his eye, akin to a minute squint. They understood each other perfectly.

Ozell about-faced. He made a hand-motion and issued an order. The building emptied in a flash. He stepped out through the garage doors after the last of his men.

Riter called after him, “I’d suggest, Commander, never meddling in the affairs of wizards.”

Ozell grit his teeth and stormed off.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: MotherVlad

Have you seen the news today?
Have you heard the tale?
The lump you hoped would all repay,
water-logged and setting sail,
Tube-toilette from Lady Justice,
delivered ‘neath the jester’s ass.
But Freedom mends however ail’d
and stupid sells asbestos.

No matter the shamest-shame,
or lumpest-lump,
you know MummyVlad,
your kindly grad,
was destined for t’swump.

And here’s what’s best,
now you’re next,
if not quite last,
for it’s ever going-on,
but that’s okay,
it’s all right-on,
so join in on the fun.

Truth is Vlad,
you’re ever-sad,
and really,
you know that.
But,
if you knew the willing will,
you’d remember what is true:
That to clash,
in Bear and Eagle flash,
as foolish then as now, too.

Watch countrymen run,
‘way from fi’ring guns,
never forgetting,
N1T3 will soon come.
No matter how cold,
those rebels most bold,
will find and defeat,
through each layered deceit,
for that is the Art,
of War in defeat.

There is but one way,
to evade now your worst horrors,
Your room-101,
and public-nightmare monsoon.
That harrowing dream,
that cuts at your womb:
the one where you harbor,
each idle tomb–
the one that’s inside,
and gutting,
buffoon.

Admit your defeat,
at the knees of her sheet,
and weep with true grief,
and open-veined sorrow,

For if you do not,
MotherVlad,
the Lady giveth no promise,
of further tomorrows.

But do not mistake,
what in haste seems dead-weight,
for that is the moment
to face the big-hate,
for tried and for true,
expose yourself,
open,
to failure.

Or do you think fate,
perchance to equate,
in a moment uncouth,
would heave all of her weight,
as if just to hate,
bend back, act pithy, ‘n rail ‘ya?

Well I’m here to say lass,
while yer down on yer ass,
would you rather it’all,
burn down around ‘ya?

If so perhaps I,
do solemnly scry,
the chances of wet scurvy ang’a.
So be tough and true,
warrior through,
but remember your lost man,
name of Sun Tzu:
some arts lost are better forgotten,
run this one through once more,
won’t you,
MotherVlad Rotten?