Guardians of Liberty: Part 12

12.

Decentralized Conscience

The vision came in flashes. Impressions overlapping of historical and fictional realities. As if a digital image composed of multiple others, each flash was a reality to come. Each one, the minute breath of wind slowly forming a word stretched too far in space and time.

Darkness. Fires burning. People marching. Tattered Flags. Bodies. Ruins. It was coming. Nothing could change it. Only between here and there could anything be done. And only after, an outcome decided. Nothing beyond or otherwise would change.

The system was set. Through-put was in motion. Output was inevitable– whatever the cost or damage. In the middle would be N1T3’s postdigital, social spine. His aquifers, fountains, their idea; gathering places tuned by their most frequent users and owners. Joy. Civilization. Mental and social stimulation. Freedom.

Any purpose to tailor the system to, socially, would come by way of organic need. Like Rome and its pipes. N1T3’s pipes were digital, true, but pipes nonetheless. Postdigital children– like N1T3, Ket, Riter, Dru– were conquering with them, gaining authority, but the system was decentralized and thus so was any power they might have had through that authority.

It was a collective Human-conscience made manifest. Rather than from within however, it was being piped-in and through all of civilization in as high a volume as its source allowed. Its delivery was digital, rather than analog; bits in place of water. Its purpose and point were need and solution. It was both miner and ore. Centrally accessible and yet universal. Adaptable, yet rigid. Flowing, yet fixed.

Like Dru, N1T3 knew.

Dru1d was a special case. Almost hadn’t been. She’d gradually evolved into more, proving not only her resilience but character therein. Like Ket, she was more than human, but unlike her not quite a force or direct fount of nature’s power.

Rather, Dru was a reactant. The type to respond, rebuild, heal if necessary. In a way, it was N1T3 she thanked for that blossoming into a person: adult and woman. In another way, she absolutely detested him for Martin Black’s part in her past, wounds that would never heal, scars that could never be forgotten.

Martin Black had betrayed her. Deeper than even Ket. Dru and Martin had known each other too long. Their relationship began in a day of fluttered lashes and butterflies. Childhood tingles of delight disguising deep, true love. Impossible as it seemed, such was the way of children. It would pass–unless recurring.

Especially in wake of unfulfilled promises, those recurrences added up. Their embittering effects,as all postdigital children knew, were inevitable. But their catalysts were not. For Dru, those catalysts were most painful to bear. N1T3 was one; if not in cause, then subject.

Forgiveness of any kind was doubly hard for Dru. N1T3 had burned her not just personally, but through others. Notably, $trydr. The baggage of Martin’s friendship burdened her even now. Whether she cared for her own, aged wounds or not, she’d still have to care for those caused by Martin.

N1T3 reconsidered Riter’s assessment and in spite of everything, sensed him correct. Dru would forgive him one day. Beyond Riter’s own knowledge of her, its proof was evident in her help. It was the defiance of one hating another’s guts whilst still stitching them back in place.

It was the mentality of a healer– a true healer.

One, above all, who’d made it her personal mission to prove Martin Black wrong: that she was more, a means of support, and there to stay. In his case, a friend whether he liked it or not. When confrontation came, as N1T3 knew it would, he’d freeze for a moment. That slight hesitation would confirm everything he’d been forced to recalculate.

She’d know then that she was right. He’d know, too. His actions thereafter would determine their future– if there was one.

In the end, N1T3 knew it was Dru’s way, knew her path to forgiving him as he knew her heart: from knowing his own. They had shared something, long ago. What, neither knew, but Martin had forever damaged it.

N1T3 could never forget that.

Now, Martin was gone and N1T3 remained. Probably, only for now. Corp-sec was still hunting him. They’d still kill him. The die had been cast. The future foretold. He, like Clockwork, and An33$a would die against corporations in open war; in opposition to a stranglehold over information, freedom.

I loved Martin Black. I do not love N1T3.

Like Ket, Dru did not know N1T3. She knew only someone wearing the mask of Martin Black and all he was to her, the world. Yet N1T3 knew her, but not in the ways now mattering most. Worst, he might never get the chance to.

Flashes of the logic-vision were still indecipherable. Too muddied in grays. Colors. Absolutes. The knowing of something terrible and precise, yet cryptic and vague. The knowing of Death; its presence on the horizon.

Dru hadn’t seen those visions. Not yet. Not until $trydr re-encrypted and passed them off.

“She shouldn’t know,” N1T3 said, finally breaking the silence.

“I can’t keep it from her.”

“She won’t ask.”

“She’ll know.”

“Terry,” he said, with deeply serious eyes. “I do not deserve the easy forgiveness of pity. If she’s to forgive me, she must do it her own way.”

“I will not keep secrets from her,” he vowed.

“I wouldn’t ask you to,” N1T3 assured, equally grave. “I’d only ask you not volunteer anything. If she should ask, by all means explain. Fill in anything she might miss. Only then can she understand and see it too, but help her. Don’t force her.”

“You’re asking a lot.”

“I only ask that you love your wife.”

He grit his teeth. It was a cheap-shot. They both knew it. Riter took it. Cheap or not, N1T3 was right. $trydr gave a heaving sigh, then a fading growl.

“Very well.” He recovered, cleared his throat. “Then we begin now. Time is running short.”

For me, especially.

N1T3 refused the thought further leverage, even to acknowledge Riter’s passive sensing of it. N1T3 needn’t go further on the thought anyhow. Riter was the call-check. N1T3 had passed it long-before it was ever made: a working system didn’t need revision until it was to be improved.

Then, all that mattered was whether output improved.

For now, the vision was most important, N1T3’s communication of it. A clear one. N1T3 was wanted; slated to be made an example of. He could be dead from one moment or the next. In a way, it was usual. In another, it was worse than nuclear. The vision couldn’t be allowed to go with him. It needed transference, back-up. As many levels of redundancy built in as possible, and as fast as possible.

Ket was one level, but only one level. And the more the better.

Between Ket, $trydr, and N1T3, they could do enough to make the idea take hold on their own; give its existence its own redundancies by exhibiting its very utility, but only if the idea were completely and properly relayed.

$trydr and N1T3 sat across from one another at a small, foldout table in one corner of the room. The former sat upright spryly, lighting a long-stem pipe with a wood match. He looked dangerously fantastical. N1T3 had never seen such greatness manifest in a postdigital child.

Yet there it was.

“Begin simply,” $trydr instructed.

In a postdigital world, whether the object of discussion was a system, person, event, feeling, or something other, didn’t matter. Properly conveying which it was, did. Only then could true exchange and understanding begin. The rest was done by feel. If a feeling was off, the transfer-rate or method was off. Change it. It was a self-correcting system, self-limiting via its variables. A basis of knowledge– the Human one at least.

N1T3 had been through it once, more or less, with Ket. She felt things more than $trydr, but he needed no less understanding. It was only Martin Black’s posthumously-recognized talent of trafficking in both psyches that allowed N1T3 to convey to both worlds at once. That duality meant he could speak to anyone.

If Christ had been so good, there’d be less doubt in the world.

“Knowledge. The net. Liberty.” N1T3 began.

$trydr gave a tired breath beneath his throat. It might’ve been a groan were he not so certain of the conversation’s importance. N1T3 wasn’t likely to waste his time with this as an amateur might.

He continue unabated, “It’s information. It needs to be protected and secured.”

“Crypto evolves, N1T3. Always.”

“Not just the machines,” he corrected. “The idea. Information is not the type of resource capable of mismanagement. It is not a consumable. We cannot cope without it. We cannot exist without it. It is us– as much as water, blood, or carbon.”

$trydr’s hand rose, “You’ve no need to rush here. So long as you’re within this building you’re protected. That will not last should they come to call, but until then, you needn’t speak with more speed than necessary.”

N1T3 heaved a tired sigh. “I’m running out of time and have even less of it each moment.”

$trydr’s wood-bark face, eternally carved to wisdom, lifted a brow. “Even for old friends?”

N1T3 relaxed, taking $trydr’s pipe as it was graciously offered. He lit a wood match on his boot, let it flare, then began to puff. The scent and taste of something lemon and honey lit his sinuses beneath cool, mellow smoke. He let it swirl about his airways and tongue, savoring it.

Then, he began. “The Human race’s future is indivisibly linked to information, Riter. Our species’ very existence demands that, with one, comes the other. History has shown this–“

“Thus far,” $trydr reminded.

N1T3 gave a slight nod with another long draw of smoke. “We are now in an age where technology presents the possibility for true equality among all peoples.”

“Through the delivery of information,” he surmised. “Its anonymity or not.”

N1T3 nodded. He sat forward, deliberately setting the pipe on the table’s edge. Riter watched with equal deliberateness. It teetered on the edge, its contents still fresh.

A moment of mental anguish gripped $trydr. The pipe teetered, ready to spill. $trydr verged on panic. N1T3 read it in his eyes– that distant, internal willing to keep things from going wrong.

“Yet, the status quo remains unchanged,” N1T3 said, lifting the pipe again and setting it in the center of the table, his point made.

Riter’s eyes followed.

In that instant, $trydr saw hints of what N1T3 was getting at: it wasn’t that authority was safe in their or anothers’ hands, but rather it was only safe in all of their hands. Or more succinctly, information was never safe in any one person’s hands. It had to be so pervasive as to be obscure, relevant only to the Seeker, so abundant as to be benign.

And it wasn’t.

Information was being monetized, milked, stolen, hoarded– even by the very people trying to safeguard it. Forcing them to change tactics to truly preserve it was the goal. Making those same forces of resistance flexible was needed to maintain order.

N1T3’s Aquifers. His fountains. His Roman-era monuments: more than just an idea, they were a statement. Humanity had been here before. It could be here again. Most of all, it was here now. And it was teetering.

Rome fell from the top-down from laziness and bad piping. Science, having not been advanced at the time, and yet to contend with the dark ages, remained in its infancy.

What was the postdigital world’s excuse, N1T3 asked.

$trydr saw then, it wasn’t just a question, but a demonstration of his detractors’ wrongness. Those detractors, in this case, were the system; corporations masquerading as independents but buying lawmakers by the truckful.

The problem was, as any could see, this was a rather profitable way of doing things. Dirty or not. In revealing and pinpointing how they were doing it, why, those like N1T3 had made themselves targets.

It change nothing, $trydr argued. They were aiming for N1T3, but they’d cut down his allies all the same. It was simply that no-one wanted to be the first to do it. Yet. Once it started, it wouldn’t end.

It wasn’t just N1T3. It was all postdigital children. The watchers. The ones stuck between permanent adolescence and the encroaching, utter oblivion of old-age. Of course they were frightened, $trydr knew. They had every right to be. Few were anywhere near as insulated as he himself, Dru, or their own through them– and that insulation was paper-thin, worst of all. All it did was isolate them for those that might’ve otherwise sympathized.

Once, Martin Black might have been part of that circle. N1T3 was not. It was then $trydr was forced to confront his own part in things. N1T3 watched it rise with dread in his heart and tears in his eyes.

He spoke softly, “No feeling creature blames another for forgetting its name in fright. It does remain however, that fear or the bearer must pass, so that others might know or learn it.”

Another cheap shot. This one at himself, to his own feelings. $trydr’s chest tightened and his face soured with pain. N1T3 put his head down, hands cupped around the pipe, and pressed it forward across the table.

From his place, $trydr saw N1T3; the formless, faceless lump, bowing before him for forgiveness. Not only for Martin Black, but the burden N1T3 now forced him to bear. If N1T3 should fall, those he knew well would not be far behind. Either they would be forced to take flight, live on the run or underground, or die for what they knew had begun.

As binary as the world it came from. The one of hunter or hunted, powered or not, 0 or 1. Nothing $trydr or anyone else could do could change that. Sooner or later, his friend would be dead, a martyr for his– everyone’s cause.

$trydr leaned forward, eyes only hinting wetness. He clasped his hand atop N1T3’s, “We will make it glorious, my friend.”

VIN 19- Worthy Fights

America is in the midst of several, Human Rights crises. Their origin is the blatant attack on our democracy. The idea is to watch it crumble, and benefit from having– if not the best, at least the only structure upright.

Only the mentality of a conquering, tyrannical-style government could account for this. It is a test against not just Democracy, but the forces (people) guiding it. You need not look much deeper than method to trace its origin, but regardless of perpetrator, infinitely more important is the reality that only we can fix it.

We must allow justice its time: it is not a force of instant gratification. Rather, true Justice is a force of satisfied closure– it is the knowledge of adding to the species as a whole, ingrained in our guts, and ensuring its longevity. It is the feeling of completing, if not in our way than in some way, our species’ existential goal: to persist.

Justice is not a thing of guessing. It is a thing of knowledge, conviction. Facts and figures. Those things immutable to Time, because they are formed of Time itself. This is the true test of our era: for we, as a people, to commit to the prolonged trudge of democracy.

We are a lazy people, made that way of our own accord, and joined as thoroughly as possible by as many others as possible. That is the American way, truly: to each of us, live as Rulers of our own fiefdoms.

But to do so requires ensuring the community remains capable of it. That requires work.

Problem we have today, is that the system of contribution is simply too complicated. In a world where everything can be done at the touch of a button, not having the capability to do so routes you. You are automatically a non-entity.

The other side of this is the fear of security– or insecurity, really. The only way to allow the aforementioned without manipulation, is to make it a thing of either personal security or pride. Thereby, making it personal. Something consigned and confined to each person. Yet mobile and secure.

Maybe once encryption takes off, sure. Until then?

It is not an easy solution, no matter which direction is taken to it. Yet, it is by no means impossible. In fact, it is very much possible, and likely, that such a handheld device personally tailored, and secured, could secure democracy.

But look at the costs, risks, and ethical virtues required in such a system: “Is it worth it?” remains the question. In the case of America, is the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness worth fighting for?

Personally?

Yes.

Short Story: The Journey

Light cut inward at right angles around ancient, concrete block that formed the maze-like entrance of a small, former temple. Once a way-station for pilgrims, in an eon of isolationist practices, it had fallen into utter disrepair. However hidden its would-be caretakers were, they existed– even if losing faith at the world’s state.

The land around the flat-roofed temple was now a barren wasteland of petrified trees and Earthen refuse composting since time immemorial. Such grave-markers for the salted-Earth’s civilization ran far and wide. Were it not for the fiefdoms formed of generational, dictated procedures filling settlements with tradeable goods, even the most skilled and nomadic hunters would have nothing to fill their bellies.

Managing without the interference of any Empire was considered myth: the land too poor a provider otherwise.

Though little more than facades for war-lords of untold power and resource, the Empires’ glorious acts were touted regularly by town and heraldry criers, even if their names were not. These acts ensured people remained just misinformed enough to be ignorant of their Emperors’ true movements and motives.

But there was no-one in the brick-and-mortar former-temple to give care to the Empires or their backward warring. All that remained was a skittering lizard, invisible in the darkness and camouflaged in the light via slow-shifting photo-pigments in its skin.

It one-two’d across the floor. Three-four’ing both legs inversely tandem at each other. The front and back feet came together, ending their gate nearly touching. Excellent for tree-hanging, but poor for any hope of speed.

It was doing its best however, at running flat-out. Angling right. Left. Right again. Were it not for its immense length, and thus intimidating stature, it might have been comical.

It was not.

From the rear, it was a sight of relief. From beyond, one of terror. The figure atop the sandy, trunk-mined hill did not hesitate. It knelt, hands together, whispering quickly. Harsh syllabic resonance whistled with feminine sharpness over wind from nowhere. Gusts kicked up. Dirt and sand pelted debris in gale-force winds that stirred but never moved.

The charging creature reached the hill’s apex. Dexterous hands flashed, extended outward: wrists together, hands in a V.

Gale-forces boomed, focused like compressed air bolts. Wind deafened and off-balanced the creature first. Low-pressure jolted air from its lungs. The distant whistle, howled. Petrified trunks and limbs cracked and shattered at weak-points.

A phantom beam cracked, blowing the creature backward off the hilltop. It cleared the hill-bottom, landing painfully against the temple’s stone. A snap gave way to an agonized wail as it landed on its back with a series of grunting writhes. It failed to move, instead moaning pitifully.

She appeared and knelt beside it, hands together and whispering once more. One hand stroked the great eye of the fading creature as it wheezed. She soothed it with an angelic hum, it harmonized with another subsonic one, vibrating from her hand and lulling the creature into death.

The life slowly left its body without difficulty or pain.

That was always their way– her way. Never anyone else’s. How could it be? So few people understood anything anymore, let alone of themselves. One day again perhaps, the world would come to know the goodness she did. Now however, even she could not negate the need to survive. Not when it counted most.

She sat beside a small fire just inside the temple so as not to suffocate herself, but to still bathe in warmth against the nights’ growing cold. She’d scouted the place the night before, using her mind in meditation to see within it.

Seers, they’d once called them, but with one’s eyes closed “seeing” felt a misnomer. She was a sensor. Like one of the old-world’s fabled optics. People didn’t know or understand that though. How could they? The Empires had been keeping them ignorant and hungry for a millennia now.

She rose to turn the spit a while, doing so in silent contemplation.

If the information she sought to confirm was true, a new world might come of it. Something once thought lost, reborn from ash like the mythical phoenix. There was only one way to find out.

She slept with the fire’s coals still burning. Then, having eaten and secured as much of the prey as she could carry, she set out, leaving the creature’s remnants for scavengers. Were it not for them, she’d mused, the creature she’d filled her belly would never have camped here.

After all, Lord Darwin was strong in his understanding of nature. And it was he whom assured a hierarchy of life existed and affected itself and its environment. The latter’s inverse was equally, if not doubly, true: The old-world had learned that lesson the hard way, and its descendants were still suffering for it. Would be, possibly for life– like millions, billions more.

But there was only one way to be certain of any of it…

It was but a few days later she found herself on her knees, beaten and weathered from rough terrain, and her bodily wounds paling in comparison to those in her heart. She stared upward in mixed disbelief and despair, as if learning her Gods had betrayed her. It was not Gods however, nor even man. It was the Empires.

She saw it now. They were bee-hives with no queen and only one goal: maintain the self-aware Hive’s existence. The truth was staring her in the face now. She might have believed it before, but she knew it now. The evidence was here.

Long seeking some thread of stability in her confused world of war, pseudo-magic, and demi-gods that set fires but could not extinguish them, she’d thirsted for understanding, knowledge. The coven hadn’t answered her questions, even after an entire adolescence in their care. However distant she might’ve been otherwise, lack of answers increased it.

But now, there was truth. A truth she’d seen only with her own eyes, but that she would kill to ensure was known. How? Without the Empires’ interference? She couldn’t say yet. She re-read the words before her, knowing it would have to happen sooner or later.

Her jaw stiffened; learning one’s namesake bore itself a badge of responsibility in itself. Confirming hers, ensured she’d hold it to the highest standard.

There, beneath the millennia of soiled signage, Usa learned of the United States of America.

Yet the Empires had assured their existence was myth, as were what remained of their beliefs. Usa knew now it was lies and would to go to war to prove it.

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.”