Poetry-Thing Thursday: You ask, Yet I Answer

You ask me what love is,
yet I do not know.

I know that I have loved and lost:
the feelings of life and entertainment,
all at mercy of soul’s cost.

You ask me what love is,
but I do not know.

I know only warmth and vibration:
delivered through aetheric space-time,
from the source of cosmic machination.

In the end,
what do my meanings matter?
Do you not,
know them yourself?
Then look toward the lingering,
of the inner soul-health.

It is what’s needed
‘tween the dwindlings of time,
and if gone unheeded,
the Mariner’s last rime.

You ask me what love is,
yet I haven’t a clue.

But I have a deep-down feeling,
that you know,
really,
you do,
yet still,
you go on reeling.

You ask me what love is,
I haven’t the faintest,
for all I know,
is when it is true.

Guardians of Liberty: Part 11

11.

$trydr

A face emergedlike the Cheshire cat appearing from darkness. N1T3 was Alice. In place of glowing bulb-eyes were others much more keen and calculating. The scruff-jawed face, aged as N1T3’s, held a wisdom many years beyond even the eldest of those N1T3 knew.

One, fluid motion, propelled $trydr forward. A fist collided with N1T3’s jaw, as the opposite pulled him into a hug. N1T3 recovered immediately, finding himself led forward as if nothing had happened.

He rubbed his left jaw, “Could’ve warned me, Riter.”

They passed into a stairwell, ascending toward the station-proper. “I was glad to hear you weren’t dead,” $trydr said, leading him past a formerbunk-room and toilets,now altered in purpose.

“Never would’ve expected to hear that,” N1T3 admitted. “Appreciate it though.”

N1T3 rubbernecked; the station was largely unchanged since youth.In a way, so wholly different it could never be anything near the same. Mostly, it was missing the people. The ones that made it okay to be a burnout, so long as you contributed.

Usually, that’d meant keeping the place from the scrap heap. Other times, it was stockingit with food and other essentials. He and Riter were gophers then. Kids taught right and wrong from sweat on their browand goodness in their hearts. Not arbitrary rules, to be bent with the right social status.

Riter’s father was an old man even before he was born; he’dremarried late,during a 20-year career firefighting. After Riter, hewent on to be Chief another 20 years– well-past normal retirement.But Riter’s old man had done few things right. He gambled and owed money, fought, occasionally drank too much, and often ended up riding the station’s couch from it.

All the same, none would’ve spoken ill of him. He knew right and wrong, if only because he toed and crossed that line too often himself.

When he finally died, Riter was forced to leave the station– the place he’d spent his whole life. That is, until he’d somehow occupied and fortified it. If $trydr was stayinghere, as he was beginning to suspect, N1T3 knew where he’d set up. Knew it… like he knew he’d find him here.

Fact was, it only made sense for a former Chief’s son to buy his father’s old station-house after it was salable. Only a fool wouldn’t have seen its value. So long as one could afford it, why not? Like N1T3, Riter had plenty stashed in assets and currencies. In the end, the how made sense but thewhy perplexed him.

$trydr glanced over his shoulder as he ascended a pair of steps.He hesitated with a warm nod, then ushered N1T3 into the office. A memory of the dispatch desks, half-empty, superimposed onto their new reality of total-occupation of tech.

The windows were low-lit, covered by cloth to let just enough light in to show day, but not betray a light or two being on low at night. At that, the room was low-lit. The glow of monitors supplementing cool light from a few dozen clusters here and there; in corners, along walls, and scattered about a central section of former desk-consoles.

Servers. Cheap. But liquid cooled. Silent. Powerful. Riter shut the door behind N1T3 and began to lead him around. Each cluster was running open software– and given Riter’s paranoia, secured by nonsensical alpha-numerics and heavy encryption.Perfect.

“I still don’t understand what you’re doing here.”

“Waiting for you.”

N1T3 hesitated, eying a monitor, “All this…. it’s legitimate?

“Nothing but.”

If N1T3 was surprised before, he was utterly stupefied now.

He suddenly understood; like Ket, Riter had been waiting for him. Over the decade since Martin Black’s demise, his former comrades had been building a shrine to his ideals. Not to him per-se, nor even his words, but his ideals nonetheless.The same ones he’d helped spread in the time-before, was helping to secure the future of now.

Except, they weren’t his ideals. Not really. He knew that now. They never had been, for that matter. He simply knew and spoke of them first, before the masses caught on. When the others were still struggling to find their words. Not from malice, but immaturity.

Martin Black had been forced to live lifetimes before his time. In that, he gained a wisdom that made N1T3 the force he was. The problem was, that blinded him to certain, other aspects of himself that were immature. Again, not from malice, but simple lack of contextual maturation.

Because of that, too, N1T3 had learned how indelible the ink of life was. Was determined to find a way to make the most his, by ensuring no-one ever had to fear nor experience that indelibility early.

He began to nod, “You want me to link them.”

$trydr smiled, “Still sharp. Good. You’ll need it.”

N1T3 stopped at a server running an open file-browser. He knew $trydr’d left it open for him, like he knew everything else. He knew too what he’d find in it. He didn’t really care to look, but did for the sake of respect. The effort Riter would’ve gone through to collect the data was worthy of gratitude, if nothing else.

N1T3 began sifting the open directory. Thousands of image files appeared as just-discdernible thumbnails. With them came thousands, then millions of moments. They hit N1T3 in the gut harder than Riter had in the face. He doubled over, having preferred a repeat of that instead.

A series of pained moments. Flashes of light. Darkness. Shadows moving.

He found himself on his hands and knees, the weight of Riter’s hands on him. A third-person’s presence; slender-boned fingers at his neck. Dru1d. Of all things, N1T3 never expected to find $trydr’s wife tending to him.

N1T3 was braced on the floor, hands holding him up. The gut punch had winded, staggered, and rattled him. If he’d been in a boxing ring, it would’ve been a two-hit, one-round fight. A disappointment, in a way.

His viscera returned as she lilted, “… normal for something like this.”

“Psychological?”

“One triggers the other.”

Her voice rubbed his ears like silken woodwinds. His rumbled like a floor-tom. N1T3’s world focused. “I’m fine now.” He rose slowly. “Better anyhow.” They spotted him upward. “What the hell happened?”

“Memory recall,” she said firmly, already on-guard. “It’s painful.”

“That was intense.”

“You repressed a lot, Martin,” $trydr said. “It’s going to take time for it to decompress.”

“But it will. Soon,” she warned, about-facing to storm out. “I’d suggest you have something for his head then.”

N1T3 supported himself on a nearby console while $trydr brought chairs, “Angrier than you now.”

“You blame ‘er?”

N1T3 remained silent, waiting for Riter to stop and sit himself, and deeply considering the question. Close as the three had once been, Martin Black’s wounding carelessness affected healers worst of all. At that, N1T3 was certain Dru was. Not a false healer either, but a true healer; one whose essence aligned with her polarity.

Not only had she been directly wounded by Martin, she’d spent the better part of the time between tending to wounds he’d had a hand in creating. From her perspective, how was he not to blame?

N1T3 finally sighed, “Not in the least, Riter. Never.”

He managed a small smile, a wise-glint conveying a depth of gratitude. “Then in time, she’ll heal. That’s what she does.”

He thought to inquire further, but knew her time would come. Even if it was only a parting word, she would have her say. He only hoped she’d be gracious enough to allow him an apology– maybe one day, forgiveness.

He hoped, then remembered he might not live long enough to see it.

With all the weight of the world crushing into him, N1T3’s reality manifested on his features. In that moment, time ceased to exist for $trydr. He saw his old friend now as pale, shadowy husk of his former self. Worse, he saw now the madness that had begun in earnest. Not only N1T3’s, but his own part in it.

As N1T3’s part in Ket’s play.

$trydr had always known he had a part to play, how to prepare for it. Only until the play was in motion would they know if he’d done enough. Now, he understood and saw N1T3’s reality better than any before, and it was bleak. Bleaker than even his own reality, by virtue of their differing statuses.

In that moment too, N1T3 saw the look he’d had himself when he’d seen the vision of the future. Not through supernatural or precognizant power, but logical deduction. That moment of lip-parted terror-eyed recognition.

The one that ended in seemingly one, credible way: with N1T3 as martyr.

Short Story: Liberty’s Fist

Liberty occupied a bench in the village square, staring forward. Her vantage gave her views over the assembled crowd, their pumping fists. She need not hear their shouts or chants, they were etched on the air, implicit to every breath. Her face meanwhile, was empty, expressionless: mind still spun from the goings-on.

The gallows had been oiled in preparation, the rope made new and fast around the girl’s neck.

Couldn’t have been more than thirteen, Liberty knew. Soot and grime-tattered clothing said she’d hung in a cell far too long. Poverty was smeared across her face. Suffering stamped in her downcast eyes.

It will finally be over.

That’s what she would be telling herself, Liberty knew. To make it easier. A life of suffering, of anguish, of nothingness, would finally end. They’d no longer blame her for their ills. She, in turn, would no longer suffer for those she neither knew nor understood.

At last, there would be no more pain. At last there would be peace.

Liberty grit her teeth; the Alderman himself, Chief Village-Bastard had come to read the proclamation. Even across the square, sleaze oozed off him like every whore-monger for power. She might as well be beside him for all his tainted corruption on the air.

His voice boomed from his man-sized blowhole with only the slightest hint of joviality, “By order of the power vested in me by his majesty the Emperor Keylon of Ardania, I hereby sentence you to death by hanging for the crimes of witchcraft and sorcery, harboring of seditious dissent, and the daily-theft of bread from the bazaar. You are hereby ordered to hang from the neck until dead. Have you any words in your defense?”

She didn’t breathe.

Liberty felt a tooth chip from her jaw grinding tension. The sick bastard was taking his time, enjoying it. He was drawing out the silence to revel, she could take it no longer.

A flash erupted in the sky over the gallows. The hangman and his master froze, aghast. The crowd hissed terror. Each man, woman, and child, froze. The flash resolved from a blinding orb into a light shaped so bright it stole the sky from the sun. Its form was that of a woman, decidedly more fearsome than any villager had seen. She was both beautiful and terrifying; her body muscled as befit a woman of war and strength, brutality and murder. Her face was marked, but too opaque: the longer one stared to make out its shape, the more they saw only swirling details in a sea of beautiful faces themselves.

Liberty rose slowly to her feet.

A voice of terrifying resonance shook the very Earth beneath the village, “Cut her down at once or face the wrath of your Gods!”

The quaking threatened to tear the Earth asunder.

More figures took residence around the square, echoing the first’s final words. Three were women, their voices from the middle and upper registers of an unabridged disharmony over the male bass and baritone. Each was a striking specimen of Human perfection. Each, like the first, bore some weapon denoting their skill in battle; bow, spear, shield, axe, staff. Each too, were dressed in thick hides infused and trimmed as with metal-scales and materials of undeniable strength.

A pause fell about about the square; a moment of hesitation in which the assembled Human minds fought to grasp the proceedings. Then, the hangman drew a knife, and took a step to cut the rope. His master cupped his bicep roughly.

“Heresy! Witch! You conjure this with your dark magicks.” The girl looked as if already dead.

“You dare defy us!?” The Gods roared with a grating dissonance. The girl remained still.

“Vile tricks. Fiendish. Foolish girl.”

Liberty lifted her hood, her face hidden but for her snarling mouth. A rip in the air left a wave of light that disintegrated in a blink.

A hooded figure appeared on the gallows behind the Alderman, still frozen in place, impotently raging to recapture the crowd. A collective gasp told him he was losing them still. The figure pivoted an arm around his throat. The girl stirred. The Alderman was silent, eyes widened and mouth gaping. The figure dropped him as so much refuse; blood draining from his neck while the crowd’s panic erupted.

Liberty was across the Gallows, hood threatening to fall. The Hangman raced her. The Gods screamed terrifying commands that threatened to tear the Earth with their resonance. Liberty couldn’t care less. She was only steps away.

The Hangman won, reached the lever. Liberty leapt, one arm outstretched. The Hangman threw the lever. The floor dropped, rope tightened. The girl’s eyes met Liberty’s: terror and betrayal, newly-found and dashed hopes, all within.

Liberty collided with the girl mid-air. The rope pulled taught. Her blade sliced. In a blink, the warp of air and light appeared and disappeared. The Gods roared fury. Explosions rocked the distance. The crowd stampeded in terror.

Liberty landed outside the village, just on the edge of the forest, wind knocked from her lungs. The girl choked likewise beneath her, fingers grappling the tightened noose and wrestling it away. Liberty, breathless, quickly regained her footing. She bolted, pulling the girl up, off into the woods.

They ran until the girl’s adrenaline could no longer support her. Liberty stopped only at a cry to find she’d drug her several feet. She panted an apology and examined her for any serious injuries.

When they’d finally regained their wits, Liberty explained, “If you’re to be branded a witch, you’re to be raised as one.”

The girl’s doe-eyes, until now hidden by circumstance rose to meet hers, “I… I don’t understand. I’m not a–”

Liberty knelt beside the girl, hand on her shoulder, “You will be.”

She clearly did not understand, etched as it was in the pain on her face, the utterly confused hopelessness.

Liberty’s eyes softened, “What is your name, child?”

“Meuz,” she said shyly.

Muse,” Liberty muttered under her breath. “Meuz, I am Liberty–”

Dogs howled not far enough off. Panic was still going strong, but the Alderman had been murdered. Whether by Gods or man, the village was in a turmoil that wouldn’t end any time soon. In retribution, any strangers would be rounded up as scapegoats– rightful or not. The smoke drifting toward them demanded it.

Liberty helped Meuz to her feet once more, the pair reinvigorated by their sudden, encroaching reality. “We must go, but know this, your journey has yet to begin. Should you ever return here, these louts will know the Witch Meuz’s power like that of the Gods they’ve denied.”

“But why, Liberty? How?” She pled.

“Because the Universe demands it.”

Guardians of Liberty: Part 2

2.

Making it Through

The last few levels were swarming. Like the zombie apocalypse vids popular when N1T3 was a kid. Except, instead of mindless drones shambling for meat, it was University and Marine washouts looking to hone blood-lust for the highest salary.

The second team of them appeared just below the fifth floor. They were tramping between foyers when he caught sight of them. That he’d made it so far without running into them told him the thoroughness of their search. He hesitated, holding his breath, and waiting.

If he knew anything of the growing plague corp-sec was becoming, it was their method of operation. Corps were all about area-denial, especially near their borders. N1T3 was technically bordering on their turf, he’d known it all along. Until now, it was the safest way to maintain supply-routes, but he had other places to crash.

Places he’d long ago planned to retreat to, if necessary.

Everyone like him had them. Never as a paranoid delusion, but rather, as a forethought to bulwark against tidal oppression. Problem was, N1T3 realized hiding against a wall; there was a major difference between planning for something and experiencing it.

With the latter now upon him, he wished he could have planned better. Then again, he’d never expected a corp-sec battalion to swarm. Even that had seemed the realm of delusion right up until Clockwork and An33$A bought it.

Now, he wished he’d bought a tank; a fighter jet. Or else built some sort of orbital platform to live on. Then, he wouldn’t be crouched in filth, heart ready to give out, with an army between he and any relative safety– an army looking only for him.

The feet tramped up, hesitated at a door. It opened, then closed, and everything was quiet. A door shut and latched below, forced him to swallow hard. He nearly choked, fought back for fear of the sound it might make.

His body launched itself down the next few floors like a ghost atop a bullet-train.

He knew only each step; the one to come. Each measured, planned without thought but on sheer will and want of survival. He found himself between the second and first floors in a breath. Inside the first in a thought.

He stopped, starring down the main-lobby of the office building at what had once been the front doors of an accounting firm. The lobby elevators bulged beside stairwells, taunting fattened caretakers into tempting the dual fates of poor, physical conditioning and heart-disease; and taunting N1T3 in to testing his luck that someone wasn’t watching.

He wasn’t how he’d made it past the first two teams. Making it this far made him want to re-examine his perception of the universe.

No time. The doors lay straight ahead.

Too obvious to run. Just beyond that last pair of elevators, squads of itchy trigger-fingers whipped into a frenzy from corporate propaganda. Hungry, abused dogs looking for a meal; N1T3 the jackrabbit. If they caught him, they’d fight over scraps for days.

His only hope was in the moment-to-moment. The step-by-step. Then again, hope was thin. Especially in the face of hot lead.

He shouldered his way along the wall, creeping forward as near to the corner as willing, and then some. He hesitated at a shuffle of clothing from one side. A hint to the shadows revealed the at-ease group of armored and armed wannabe-mercs; No-one had expected him to make it this far.

All the same, he wouldn’t overplay his hand. Not when one bullet shy of dead with hundreds in reserve. He had to play it just right, use the shadows, or he’d eat every one.

One breath at a time. He made for the far-side of the corridor, blending with the shadows.

He hesitated, corp-sec greenies stirring. The lifers, career soldier-types not good or smart enough for officer’s school, but unable to crunch numbers or run tech all day. Like most of corp-sec, these people were damaged goods. Less likely to be rabid, but no less prone to it.

Not surprising, considering what their job required of them.

N1T3 made himself as small as possible and slipped from the wall. He cut across shadows for a column, the cover it provided. He slipped out again, hoping to be lost in the background.

Suddenly, flashes:

A spot-light. His body tensed, worked. The hounds scrambled. The jack-rabbit took flight. Seconds. Days. Then a first spat of gunfire. N1T3 was half-way to the doors.

No-one could’ve expected the swiftness of his flight. N1T3 included. Pure terror fueled long-dormant energy reserves. His legs were lead, yet moved at light-speed. His heart had stopped but his body surged with fresh fluids.

He reached the revolving doors. Second and third rounds of gunfire ricocheted off metallic frames, rippled storm-proof glass. N1T3 stumbled, scrambled, re-centered gravity and fell into the street. His footing returned in time for beams to light over him. He sprang across the street, at full-sprint by the near-edge of the building.

Overhead, the buzz of unmanned drones running face-recog rained over N1T3. His body launched sideways, around, putting as much distance between it and they as possible before finding a way to break line of sight.

N1T3 was down 366th, around a corner, out of sight in a heart beat. The meat-drones had already lost him, but the metal ones were death on his tail. Their buzz was persistent, relentless, vibrating after him like cold death.

But they were programs. His malfunctioning mind knew. And really, he knew programs better than anything. Hardware. Filled with software written by he and his peers. All he needed was one, good angle. One moment of broken, line of sight. Enough for a second’s lost tracking.

He weaved to and fro, making toward the street’s far-side, and an awning there. It wrapped around its building, shielding the doorway from the elements by nestling it beneath concrete supports and glass panels.

His chance; he took it.

His legs pumped. Shoe-rubber smoked across concrete, asphalt. He was under cover. The drones appeared. Zoomed under the awning after him, followed it around– the obvious path; the one their simplistic programming determined he’d follow.

He ducked back and around the small, concave of steps between the door and the central awning’s support. He hesitated a blink, then booked it back into the open; back the way he’d come. The destroyed remains of the former London commercial-downtown became little more than a blur of neutrals smeared with red from terror and desperation.

N1T3 became conscious of himself again somewhere near his destination– and the smell of the stagnant Thames.

Rivers weren’t much use in an age of drones and automated transport; which meant an old dock, in disrepair and seemingly little more than forgotten sewage access, was hardly conspicuous.

All the same, he made sure he wasn’t watched or followed, stealthing through as many shadows as possible. The light he was forced to cross made him little more than a flit– a figment of imagination, appearing and disappearing in the corner of a blinked eye.

He slipped through the underground-access door, shut it just as quickly.

The pounding in his ears gave way to a distant, eternal drip of a neglected and ailing pipe. With it, some part of him finally relaxed. He knew the place well, had established it years ago. It was the same place he and his buddies used to go to get high as kids. The kind no-one knew about decades ago and history had ensured was forgotten since.

N1T3 was safe. If only for now.

He shuffled along the dark hall toward its center, a room where he’d stashed supplies long ago. His mind still fought to grasp what had happened; that corp-sec had actually found him– and right after Clockwork and An33$A bought it.

Bought it?

No. Were murdered. Hunted down. Exterminated. Why?

Why not? N1T3 and the other hackers had known for years the net was a ticking time-bomb. It was the only reason or explanation for why they could be prepared like they were. The problem was, they knew they were at war. As soon as N1T3 hit the net again, they’d know how serious things were.

Vets like him would already be packing up, hitting the road to reset just for safety’s sake.

Vets like him, if any existed still– N1T3 refocused, found himself leaning on a patch of damp, moldy wall with the same tranquility he could only imagine came at the first drops of euthanasia; released tension, lost fear, knowledge that this at least, was almost through.

He managed to float along its dissociative effects, manufactured of blood and fear, to the shadows of an already-darkened room. Beyond it, into another barred by a simple combination lock on an innocuous looking latch; enough to deter most intrusion. Any practiced sleuth would’ve noticed the age difference between lock and surroundings area. But a practiced sleuth wouldn’t have been there without knowing something was anyhow.

N1T3 entered a series of ones and zeroes on the combo lock, then let himself in through the narrow door. He emerged in something not dissimilar from where he’d come. The whir of old hard-coded builds kept the small, recycling humidifiers and de-humidifiers running. Their job crucial to keeping the servers optimal. If the air became over-saturated with heat or moisture, the gear suffered.

Because of their access-points, they could be adjusted and monitored remotely, but only if they functioned. Then again, programmer screwing up so crucial and simple a job wasn’t taking it seriously. That wasn’t an option anymore, even for the less-than-pros emulating N1T3 and the other Hackers.

This place, and any others like it, were about to become the last bastions of digital freedom. Corporations had assured as much tonight.

N1T3 had a few things to clear up and out, a few stress tests to run, but he settled into the place as if he’d never left it. He fell into writing up his story, splicing-code to ensure the information was relayed everywhere it counted. He finished, hunched over his keyboard and half-sinking forward in despair.

The code compiled and the bot engaged, posting to the series of forums and boards he frequented. He finally slumped back to stare at ceiling-graffiti he or someone else had left in their youth. The phrase was simple, resonant, and utterly hopeless; A better way?

VIN 10- Meat-U + Digi-U= All-U

Humans are living a dual existence. That is, one of duality; between analog and Digital-selves. At this point in their history, and because of their inexperience and fascination with technology, most of them cannot see it. However, consider them as one subset of their populous, gamers:

Each Human Gamer is both avatar and player. Their actions and effects impact both of their worlds in rippling waves, no matter their size. Said waves, dependent on direction and strength, can temper or reinforce the unrest present entirely in either world– as with any ocean or system.

Likewise, Humans are each capable of this independently, as well as in groups. In that, they are capable of doing so via their existence in either of the two realms– that is, that of the real, meat-space world. (Real-Life, or R-L.) And that of the digiverse, matrix, or net; the shared, pseudo-hallucination we all allow and experience during intake of datum to fulfill need or desire.

In effect, it is the same semi-lucid state as one amidst the immersion of a book.

Technology is the mental equivalent of a water-tap for that immersion. And while there are many different sizes and types of taps, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, ultimately they are not what matters most. That is what flows through them; the water.

Or in this case, data. Information. Reference-stacked 0s and 1s. The back-bone of knowledge, and knowledge itself. Humans are the negative space between these two avatars of meat-space R-L and the digiverse. Continuing to ignore this reality allows them to continue imbibing poisoned water– or data.

If allowed to continue, the second Fall of Rome will be infinitely further, harder, and longer lasting than the first. That is, if Civilization and Humanity aren’t lost to time in the process…

Short Story: Dead Gods

On-stage the band were throwing themselves into every lick and power-chord. The effort culminated in all the lasting effect of lint in wind. Long hair flung sweat and other bodily fluids through colored stage-lights with twirling abandon. The lead guitarist leapt and bounded about, readied to kick a stack before using it as a launch-pad instead.

The madness onstage was matched only by the madness of a crowd that might’ve brought tears to Uncle Lemmy’s eyes. The poor old sod may not’ve been there in person, dead or alive, but there was no doubting he was there in spirit. The slam-pad mentality of the mosh-pit exceeded the loss of drugged-out brain cells by an untold measure. All around it, the pumping of fists and screaming of fans made sure Neu-Ballistix raged all the harder for them.

All told, a good crowd. Powerful. One that deserved better than the rabble they were forced to contend with. Perhaps that was the problem. In the end; all feeling, no discipline. A different world for a different kind of person. Thus, Neu-Ballistix would be no more remembered than the nameless rabble from the night before, or the night before that and so on.

Lee Felton flipped his leather-jacket’s collar down and slipped out past a bouncer. He thumbed a cigarette into his mouth as he surged through the few people waiting about, coming and going. They were faceless the way any crowd was; confirmed to the senses as humans, but clustered so as to be inaccessible, personally.

Like the bands every night, every weekend; All feeling, no discipline. All discipline, no feeling. No matter what, all of one thing and none of the other, and all nothing because of it.

Then again, beneath scattered streetlights, who wasn’t faceless and unfamiliar?

To Lee, most people were sterile sperm; the assumed potential of greatness, but that could never be attained. It wasn’t their fault they were blanks– duds, but they were. Fact was, it was really the 21st century’s damaged testes that had done it. The same ones that promised a world of flying cars and hover-boards, but in reality, had turned into slum-lord ghetto-living and dehumanization.

Even smoking in public was outlawed, required standing in the cold. Fine for bouncers on-duty, but why for him? Specially when the chick in the corner’s doing rails off a whore’s cock. They can still get their jollies, why not him too?

In the end, it wasn’t about what was cool, or in, it was control. No-one knew it, and no-one could. The artistic community lived on vibes. In a digital world, that meant being blind. It was a trade-off. The vibes were bountiful when harnessed right, but required certain sacrifices be made. It was the same trade every artist made, personally or publicly. More spot-light, more heat.

It just so happened Lee’s industry was especially good at using the light to blind and dazzle, before pillaging and plundering talent, image, and any hope of reputation. And why not? They were damned good at it. Had been for a century now. Never mind how much sleaze the artists had to contend with.

Lee lit his smoke with a cupped hand, fighting Chicago winds blowing in off the lake.As usual, Winter’s Autumnal-guise arrived in time for coeds getting blasted at weekenders. Lee wasn’t sure why he came out anymore; the bands weren’t hitters, the beer was watered downand too expensive, and he’d long ago given up the hunt.

Were he surfing one-nighters, he’d have hits left and right. That was the problem though; in the industry, you went along or you went against. In either case, you chose a side. Those one-hitters were a dime a dozen, and the corporate industrial music-machine thrived on them.

The shows were more habit than anything. That sort one went about once a week to decompress from reality’s attempts at collapse. Some people were weekend warriors, college kids especially. Others were simple party-addicts bingeing on one vice or another, burning away rotted brain cells already consigned as victims of wage-slavery or normal-joery and its weekly, excess-purge.

Lee couldn’t blame people for wanting to burn cells or war away weekends. Young or old, life was passing by and the more people were forced to sit and accept it, the more it hurt to watch. Lee had seen it enough in himself the last few years, he no longer cared to watch either. Instead, he went to the shows, the bars, the open mics, waiting and listening and hoping he’d find a sound; the right mix, the right person, to make another God out of them.

He doubted he would, even that any existed in these lean, silent times. Funny, everyone everywhere was screaming into mics or acoustic wells and no-one was making a sound. Lee’d figured that was the real problem. The difference between music and noise wasn’t the notes themselves, the sounds they made, rather it was the space between, the silences formed of off-noise; the style.

Lee knew those silences better than most, had built a career on them. It was in the toilet nowadays, but stuck out enough to live off royalties.

Lee started for the apartment off Lakeshore Drive. It was one of the higher-end places. In these times and parts of the world, that meant the heat worked when you wanted it to, ‘stead of when it wanted to. The twenty or so minutes between home and the juke-joint meant enough time for the liquor to run its course.

The cold had only started edging in, but not enough it to chill the bone, wind or no.

The elevator lurched with gut-punching familiarity. Lee lit another cigarette; he’d torn the no-smoking sign off the elevator months ago. Only three people other than he and Rhein used it with any regularity. Two were smokers.The other was an old man that couldn’t smell anything from all the blow he’d rammed in his sinuses over the years.

None of them cared if he smoked.

They were all like him; burnt-out fools with ties to the industry and more mental scars than normal humans had a right to. Lee’d decided long ago the apartment building wasn’t really an apartment building. It was a retirement home for old rockers. He’d lucked out and retired earlier was all.

He slunk to his door, thumbed his way past the print-lock and stepped inside. Rhein was slumped over the couch wearing only leather pants. He looked like Billy Idol might’ve had he been naturally platinum blonde and decidedly less-straight. He’d splayed out on the leather couch in front of the flickering fireplace, looking as if waiting to be taken advantage of– in one way or another.

Lee’d get there eventually.

He tossed his coat down and sank to the far side of the couch, between the widest points of Rhein’s splayed feet. He hunched to unlaced his boots and felt Rhein’s foot playfully close to his back.

He heaved a sigh and it stopped.

“Nothing, huh?” Rhein asked, sparkling blue-grays licked by fiery reflections.

Lee didn’t bother. They both knew the industry was dead, along with everyone attached to it. The few left were unaware. They were headless chicken-bodies and headshot-deer; adrenaline-drive from half pulverized-brains that had yet to decipher their rapid and immutable exit.

Fact was, not much could be done about it. The industry was dead; taken over by corporate ass-hats and frothing mouth-pieces. All of them, demanding everyone be the next pop-rock idol or gang-banger wannabe. Didn’t matter which because they were all the same; sluts on their knees sucking for the money shot– or hoping to get some of the splash-back, if nothing else.

Lee laid between Rhein’s legs, head on his navel, only then noticing he’d been throwing back sips of whiskey from a rock-glass. Lee looked up Rhein’s torso as he sipped, the Billy Idol image damned-near complete. He couldn’t forget what drew them together, even if he barely remembered how or when.

Rhein was a God; Lee, the demi-God at his side. They’d rocked the country, torn down stadiums, halls, and homes with walls of sound. One did it live, the other did in the studio. In that way that living fast makes Relativity make sense, they lived and did it all in a decade.

Then, the bubble burst with the touring fan-base. The boredom and rot set in. The silence came with it. They’d done their best not to acknowledge the haunting truth ever since that Rock was dead, the industry with it; its Gods now fables sinking into obscurity to eventually fade forever.

Lee let his head sink back to Rhein’s navel, finally at-peace with the idea. At the very least, if they were dead, the Gods had a good run. Now, they could sleep, secure in what they’d been.

VIN 6- Societal Merit Equation

Imagine a broadcast where every person on Earth can choose to tune in, even if they do not.

Now, if it were compulsory to tune out rather than in, because the broadcast terminal’s always on standby, how many people could receive information? What types could they receive, through it? Art? Music? History? Language? Leisure? Anything? All therein, preferably. Or, enough so said components are easily accessible otherwise through said terminals.

All in the hopes that, never again might a Paragon of progress– a Newton, Einstein, Faraday, or Tesla, be restrained by inequality and lack of opportunity, bounded thought. The importance of that for a society; its achievements and future legacy, cannot be understated.

When billions are already exposed to this, it only smooths the transition. Every moment, those billions are within sensory range of digital mediums. Yet, they simply never connect properly. Take the pervasiveness of technology in a society, scale it to billions; consider how those transmissions, overall, are being used and their effects.

Judge then the merits of your society.