Aitios

Aitios

Is.
a divine being

which - when pregnant - hold billions of fetuses in the womb at once.

One day a disease broke out amidst the fetuses. A disease which causes the cells to recognize those of other fetuses and the womb as foreign.

The affected fetuses saw the womb as flesh as good for eating; as good as the flesh of other fetuses.

(...which of the two is the more excruciating pain?)

Look at the pyramid. Stacks of fetuses feeding upon one another. The grown ones at the top suck their thumbs in contentment.

The children see the womb as the entirety of their world. As a result, they are deathly afraid of leaving it. They avoid being born with all that they could muster, seeing birth as the end.

Not knowing that after leaving the womb,

they will spend their lives with



Mother.


Hidden Prologue I -

“What should not be seen”

I saw one of many entities. One overtook my field of vision, though there is nothing to see. There seems to be color; there seems to be form. But what is seen is nothing; what is felt is almost an emotion. Merely, its presence.

Like others of its kind, _________ has a name, but it cannot be said.

Suddenly, the formless entity took form as a red bird. A world was flowing out from the bird. The bird now rests in a bamboo forest; two men carrying straw baskets filled with food catch sight of it, point at the bird and approach humbly.

Its wings flapped. __________ took form of a stone statue with an androgynous face, but armoured and armed with two giant steel sickles on its back. It sits in a Church in an alleyway where motorcycles speed by. The ground is littered with cigarette butts. An old man in a white vest sits on a wicker chair, smoking. His family guards the statue.

The statue smiled and moved. ___________ took form of a figure approaching from the distance. It had an elderly walk, with a feminine voice.

It was my mother.

She asked me about my children. She told me to keep her photo on the white, knee-high shelf in the corner of the living room, and to remember her with my family at least once a year during her birthday. She walked away from me.

My mother, or ___________, then turned into Death itself. It was a color I had never seen before, rising up into the sky until it covered the entire world. Underneath it, I saw millions of people, some crying over family members, others young and listening to music, and more others reading, writing, sitting, talking – but nonetheless, all looking. As they looked at Death, it seemed to glow with greater strength.

“I will be what I want to be.” Those were _________’s last words.


Prologue II -

"The Dwarf Child and Her Dwarf Grandmother"

Today was the day she would receive her birthday gift.

She's been waiting for a long time. She knew to wait, but could not help but ask Grandma every day.

Today, Grandma smiles; it is a yes. It is the day chosen by the Three.


Under a bright blue sky
by a bright blue sea
two naked female figures clad themselves in white.
One jumps into the sea.
Another jumps into the sea.

and they do not come back up
until four days later.




Hidden Prologue II -

"Scientist · Gamer · Heir"

Two men are running across a field, feet barely touching the ground. They see a female figure wrap herself in ten thousand purple and fuchsia robes, all flowing in the wind. She is tip-toeing on the ocean, singing a song of no words, but merely syllables.

“What could she be doing.” One man thought.

“I can see from here. It is her same old trick.” The other man thought.

“That’s it. The fish. She’s raising modified fish as her minions.”

“Yes. From here there seems to be 14,329 of them, seventeen generations modified already. She is breeding them to hunt after and eat human hair. She is also creating a colony structure where there will be a queen, handful of workers, and the rest of the breeds for defense.”

“She is into defence isn’t she. She has something to guard in the sea.”

“Yet she is not afraid to make that known.”

“Would you be interested?”

“Her obsession with creating colonies and social structures is not very interesting to me. Her body is though.”

“Really, Raequil. She killed your daughter just two days ago.”

“That daughter was not pretty anyway.”


"Hidden Uranus”


I followed the encrypted puzzle in the pop-up ad.

17:05, District 217’s Red Tower. I enter the 17th suite on the 127th floor. It was a small suite. I was three minutes late, and there were three men sitting around a small round table.

One cannot simply take his eyes off the gigantic figure sitting in the center, fully covered in a hazmat suit. With the hazmat, the figure appears to be nearly seven feet tall. The figure nods at me, appearing to invite me to sit.

“My name is Hatch.” The man on the right starts talking; a fashionably bearded man, graying, confident in a tuxedo. “I have four acquired projects by the Big Three. Independent app developer with thirty years experience.”

The young one on the left then starts. “My name is Lock. Second-year student at Radelbet’s.”

The figure in the hazmat seemed to stare straight at me. I finally take the courage to sit down and introduce myself. “My name is Ward. I am a programmer.”

“We’re all programmers,” Hatch scoffed. “What do you do.”

“Genome sequencing.” I answered without looking at him.

The hazmat figure starts to speak. He was indeed a man, with a voice that was not too deep - but sharpened with a crisp metallic edge.

“Call me Case. I am the creator of the Puzzle. I am not a programmer, contrary to popular belief. In fact, I have never finished high school.”

“Another self-made genius. Welcome to the world of computer science.” Hatch added.

The hazmat figure nodded. “The Puzzle contains 7021 layers. Embedded within are 102 false endings, leading most to assume they have finished the puzzle. Less than 0.0002% of those who start the first level of the Puzzle reaches the 40th false ending. The 90th false ending is another milestone, where it further weeds out 99.3%. To get to where you are, the 103rd true ending, and find the message to meet me here is rare. Congratulations.”

“That’s not possible,” Lock says. “If solving the Puzzle requires such aptitude, what about designing the Puzzle? What did you study, Case?”

“I did not study. I experienced.” Case continued. “Hatch, you solved it in under ninety-seven monitored hours. Ward, you solved it in seven fewer. Lock here finished it in twelve.”

Hatch and I both looked at Lock. The young student did not look at us, lost in his own thought.

Case continued. “Which means, Lock alone is almost as good as seven of you working together. Evaluation aside, I gathered you all for a reason.” Lock spoke again. “I know what it is. 103 wasn’t the final ending.”

*******************************

Case was silent for a brief moment. “Lock, I am assuming you have the final message memorized as well?”

Lock nods. “Like level 232, the 7021st puzzle has two solutions – leading to two different endings. One leads to the message, asking us to meet here – which I will call 7021-a. 7021-b requires info contained in 7021-a to reach. Case, I won’t have to recite the message will I. It’s in first person and…it’s awkward talking so much in front of strangers.”

“As if that has stopped you,” Hatch added.

Case started to talk. “The message in 7021-b goes like this: I am a programmer seeking assistance in building a programmed world. One that we can live in. One that entirely mimics – and surpasses our world. Though it may seem a futile thought, all the complexities of our existing world may be encapsulated as the butterfly effects of a set of finite and concrete laws. These laws are neither elusive nor esoteric: they include physics constants, observed cause-and-effect relationships, and simply, what we call science. In other words, much of the work has already been done for us. Let us call this complete set of scientific laws, which act like the program behind our world, the S-file. Running the S-file in a closed system, or a container, would allow that container to become a new-world-within-a-world, one which we have certain control over as we are in control of the S-file. I did not conceive the S-file project out of pure arrogance; but rather, I have found that our world's naturally-occurring electromagnetic frequency is not just a random phenomenon: within it lies the S-file that I have just described.

Over the past years, I have discovered the code embedded in our world’s Schumann Resonance, and finished designing hardware needed to compile and document the S-file. I have a complete copy of the code. Which means that I already have the capacity to slowly transform a closed system into a real world, one which can operate regardless of what the outside world has deteriorated into. However, there is only one problem: I know for fact that the code running through our world’s natural frequency is not an optimal code. S-file is a corrupted file. This is where I need your help.”

I spoke up. “Fascinating. Let’s assume everything you said to be correct. Even that last part, which no one has evidence for. How will we make changes to the world’s Schumann Resonance?”

The man in the hazmat suit stood up. “I left that part out on purpose. Next week, if you see potential in the project, I will take you to my lab. I will not tell, but rather show you directly how I can alter the S-file, alter our world, right in front of you.”

*****************

The next week, the four of us gathered. He had prepared everyone a hazmat suit.

“That makes sense,” Lock said. “The lab...is situated in the Wilderness isn’t it.”

I panicked. Before I could say anything, Hatch spoke up.

“I am not going anywhere remotely near cancer cells. Not even for the profit potential of this one. No.”

Donning his hazmat as usual, Case turned to Hatch. “Think about what you just said.”

“These suits smell like iron.” Lock said as he started putting on his Hazmat. Perhaps out of sheer will to compete, or perhaps not wanting to lose out on anything to the university student, Hatch started putting on his hazmat as well. “These don’t even fit. Not my size,” he said as he struggled to throw the heft over his body.

“I apologize. Funding for this project is limited.” Case said.

The virility in Case’s voice and my own experience as a biologist assured me that he was not a cancer patient. If the man could build an entire lab within mounds and mountains of cancer cells and survive to this day, I told myself I would give it a try.

After we were equipped, Case led us to a bedroom in his small suite. The door opened: inside was a car.

“Wow. Never seen a real one. Does it still run?” Lock asked.

“Isn’t it still illegal to own one of these?” said Hatch.

Case didn’t answer, but signalled for us to get in. “Good,” Hatch said. “I was not planning on taking transit in this stupid costume. We look like we’re characters from a movie or novel.”

“Now what does the car do. Does it fly?” Lock asked.

*****************

The entire room started to move. It was a built-in elevator lowering us into the great depths taking us on a trip that took over ten minutes. We finally hit a rough end. The front wall of the room opened in front of us, but it was still mostly pitch black in the underground tunnel we found ourselves in. Somehow, Case was able to see and drive. It was the first time I had seen a man drive.

None of us spoke. The anticipation of what was to come was heavy on our chests; you could feel it in the air. As well, the smell of the hazmats made it a turn-off to open one’s mouth.

When we finally stopped at our destination, I let out a sigh of relief. It was an underground structure, meaning that we did not have to physically walk through any cancerous mass.

The lab was a room, dark, small, simple as Case’s apartment. The main feature was a sort of computing device, nearly half the size of Case.

“Watch this.” Case pointed at the keyboard and the screen. He inputted code which none of us could decrypt on the spot. Lock seemed to stare, freezing before the screen.

“Do you guys hear that?” Case asked, with slight but obvious pleasure in his tone. He suddenly stood up, and pushed open what seemed to be a fire exit on the ceiling. The whole room rose as if it were another elevator.

We saw for the first time in our lives, the view from the wild. What seemed to be an ocean of burnt flesh surrounding our entire field of vision, and the remains of civilization and its towers far in the distance.

There was something in the sky.

“It will come towards us, and stop and dissipate right in front of us.” Case said. “Programmed that way.”

A tornado. A tornado was twisting in the sky halfway between us and the city, dancing above the sea of slimy but clumpy cancerous mass. It made its journey towards us. It became closer and bigger, clearly louder, and though it was obvious that it was not touching the ground – it was not disturbing the agglomeration of cancer – it certainly looked powerful enough to pick up the entire underground lab into the air and throw us into the death that is the Wilderness.

Case tapped all of us on the shoulders, quickly typed in a command on the computer station, and made sure we saw him hit enter. The sound ceased. The tornado was gone.

***********************

Debriefing fell upon us like the tornado. We were not expecting to do anything after witnessing what we had just witnessed. We were back in Case’s apartment suite. The drive home was completely silent. None of us even had the energy to take off our hazmats. As the car became parked back in Case’s apartment, none of us got off.

Case started to talk.

“As you have seen. This is the S-file. I am capable of tampering with it. And in fear of any unintended butterfly effects, I have built a laboratory out in the Wilderness. You may also say that I am trying to keep this a secret from the rest of the world. That is reason number two. Reason number three is this: the Resonance is much stronger near the edge of our world. If I have shown you with the tornado that I am a trustworthy person, you should believe when I say that our world's S-file is a corrupted file. I want your help to fix it. You are among the best computer scientists in the world.”

“This is power of the gods.” Hatch spoke with a sigh.

“What are the boundaries of its applications? Does it apply to medicine?” I asked.

Case replied. “It does not dictate to that level of detail, though it may one day. What we’re looking at is mainly environmental and atmospheric changes that trickle down to finer branches of science like human health. I cannot program someone’s cancer away; I can change the world so cancer risks are minimized.”

“Agriculture. What about farming, improving farming conditions. This could be a strong business plan.” Lock said.

Hatch interrupted. “No one pays for good weather when you simply grow in a greenhouse. Everything’s in greenhouse-towers anyways these days. What nations will pay for though, is the prevention of disaster.”

“I agree,” I said. “The easiest route to profit is in being able to create and direct disasters, but at the same time being able to remove it at our command. There is no end to what people would pay for their lives.”

“Good thinking,” said Case. “Those ideas are not new though. If I wanted to do that, why do you think that tornado was the first one you’ve ever seen in your lives?”

Hatch replied. “So you really are intent on simply improving the S-file? That is an enormously complex task.”

Case nodded. “I believe there is a perfect code out there, an optimal code defined by an upper limit, nature’s Magnum Opus file, one which can change our environment so drastically that it changes the biological prowess of human beings along with it. Disease. Incompetence. Self-loathe. All of it will disappear one day.”

Hatch continued. “Let’s say the Magnum Opus exists. What would be the extent of financial resources required to support the MO-project? In the meantime, don’t you think we need side-projects to reel in profit?”

“My only spending is on food.” Case said. “You can see I live a minimalist lifestyle.”

“But what you’re asking is for us to help you.” Hatch replied.

“However, Case is right,” said Lock. “Once an optimal, or at least an improved world is created, imagine the price of admission into that world. The real profit is in the end result by achieving Magnum Opus.”

Hatch looked straight at Case. “Well, in that case, I suggest that we split into two teams. One team works on reaching Magnum Opus. The other one works on profit-generating side-projects through the S-file, to sustain ourselves and the first project. I don’t need a big cut, Case. I can take the lead on the second if you want to devote yourself to the MO-project.”

Case nodded. “I see. Who will join Hatch, and who will join me?”

Lock answered. “I will join Hatch.”

Case turned to me. “You, Ward?”

Though working with the mystery which is Case himself enthralled me, I could not see giving up my current position to work on something that may never come to fruition. “I’ll join Hatch for now.” I answered.

Case nodded. “I see.” He hit a switch on the vehicle. We heard a sound, but did not know what it was.

He turned to the passenger seat, and removed the hazmat helmet of Hatch sitting in front of him. The helmet came off. There was no head there, but a tremendous amount of blood. Case tossed aside the helmet with Hatch's head still squeezed inside it.

“Ward, and Lock. Did you think you were the first ones to reach the final ending of the Puzzle?” He then proceeded to choking Lock to his death within seconds.

I scrambled, trying to get out of the vehicle. But the doors would not open.

As his hands came towards me, throughout all the terror and pain, his voice cut clear. “Same old humans.”


“Hidden Jupiter”


A boy and a woman embrace each other in the living room.

“How was it?” the man asked.

           “Chemo never works,” the woman smiled.

“That was our last option…what can I do for you?”

           “You are doing enough. Stall for me.”

“If only we never looked into it. Or just had them do it. ”

           “That’s silly.”

“I’m serious.”

           “The entire world’s population concentrated into a core of mega-skyscrapers, surrounded by a sea of roaming cancer cell-colonies taking up over 63% of the world’s land mass. We’d venture into this part of our reality eventually, you know that.”

“But you’ve done enough already. You don’t deserve this.”

           “If only I’d gotten what I wanted out of the investigation.”

“The wilderness…what was it really like being physically there?”

          “Silent mounds of cancer colonies, some reaching over thirty stories tall, creeping and quietly moving around you, surrounding you. The worst part of it is, I cannot figure out what else is lurking in the supposed no-man’s land.”

“What kind of tampering or human activity was it.... If only I could go myself instead of being stuck with the tapes.”

           “Don’t go.”

“You know I always follow your lead. You also know I don’t have the guts you have though.” The boy smiled.

           “What could it have been, for the world to end up in this state?” The girl thought to herself out loud.

“I want you to focus on yourself right now. Not anything else.”

          “But whatever human activity was out there means…perhaps, someone out there would know hidden truths about the type of cancer.”

“You mean someone who knows how to deal with transmissible cancer? You are right, I hadn’t thought about this. I need to investigate this.”

          “It scares me to think. It scares me to think about what else is out there…having seen over half the world, and in control over one-tenth of the population….I still do not know enough.”

“Leave this part to me. You deserve rest.”

           “But promise me, we cannot afford to lose you. You are not visiting the Wilderness.”

“I will see.”

           “You don’t even have my biological makeup to resist transmission.”

“How are you so sure?”

All of a sudden, all the lights switched off.

          “As certain as this darkness. Don’t ask stupid questions.” The woman smiled. “Let’s focus, with what limited time I have with you.”

“Are we ready to go after her?” the boy said.

           “I am tired. Let’s not make me think about this part of our plans.”

The boy nodded. “I guess this is goodbye for now. Rest well.”

           “I will see you again.” The woman smiles.

The boy rests the woman on a wheelchair, and pushes her into a closet with him. After a few minutes, he comes out alone.


"Hidden Mercury • Hidden Mars"


I was doing my job. In our scriptures, when you saw someone descend from the sky, clothed or not, you kneel before them, and ask them to be worshiped in one of our seven-hundred and twenty-one churches around the world.

That day I caught sight of a young man falling slowly from the sky. He had long black hair to his thighs, wet, but not sticking to his body due to the thickness of his hair. He was topless, red-skinned, with a length of light gray robe wrapped around his waist. Regardless of how many people surrounded me, whispering and standing still in complete awe, I knelt face flat on the ground, and recited what I could not understand but memorized perfectly. I did not know if he would simply walk away, but I did not hear footsteps. Yet maybe, I thought to myself, maybe he could fly.

I looked up after my chant. He was looking at me, brows flaring up and thick, yet with a smile on his face. “Where are you from?” he spoke to me.

I noticed he had a star tattoo on his arm. I looked away quickly, avoiding his eyes. “I am from your church; we have prepared a church to serve and worship you, long before your arrival.”

****************

I led him to the closest church, as our teachings dictated. It was the Church of Fall in District fifty-three. As I led him inside the lobby, the masses of people were instructed to spread to two sides, all kneeling. He seemed to be pleased, smiling. I did not dare ask him for his name. One of the masters joined us, half-bowing, leading us into the elevator. We took the elevator to the very top floor, where only the Divine himself can visit.

The entire floor was designed as an altar-church. There were only a set of very large windows, floor-to-ceiling, on the north side. Through the other elevator, about a dozen more masters arrived, all half-bowing. They joined with the master beside me, and knelt in front of him and I. They started the same chant I was instructed to recite; as I watched them uncomfortably, one of them stops and jerks his head. He looked out the window.

It was the first time I had seen the Divine in person. He was in the sky in a helicopter; the windows suddenly opened, throwing in a huge gust of wind that put out over half of the candles in the church. In an unbelievable leap, the Divine gracefully landed inside the building. He held out his arms to the right. In one swift motion, all of the masters kneeling parted to the sides; one of them held my elbow and led me to the side with them. We entered an elongated room with many computer stations; we could see outside into the altar-church as the two Divines stood face to face at a distance. “They cannot see us, relax.” One of the masters said to me. “One-sided mirrors.”

****************

Our Divine was a taller elderly man; fine lines on his face only accentuated his kind features. He always seemed to be smiling; it was in his eyes and brows. His hair was a smooth light brown, almost cream-colored. He donned himself in a beautiful blue robe accentuated with leather. The blue was the color of the deep waters.

“Welcome. What is your name?” Our Divine spoke.

“Call me your god.” The young man spoke, still shirtless, standing proud against him.

“I can tell you are one of many gods. I am the current ruling god of our world. What is it that you seek in coming to our world? Worship? Fame? Power? Wealth?” Our Divine asked.

“I see you have all these things.” The young man smiled.

Our Divine responded. “I will hand these and more to you willingly. Even worship you, I can. The only thing I ask is this: you must now show me your reigning divinity over me.” All of a sudden, the seven masters in our room had hands to the keyboards and fixed their earpieces.

All of them were focused on the situation outside. One of them suddenly turned to me. “Hey you. Do the same, there’s one extra station. Record precisely everything you see and hear.”

**************

Our Divine’s lips were moving, but I could not hear a thing. Then I noticed so were the lips of the young man.

A crystal bullet suddenly shot out of the mouth of Our Divine. It traveled straight towards the head of the young man, who swiftly shifted to his side, yet held his palm out to be hit by the bullet. All of a sudden, a flash of fire appears in that hand and nothing was left but a quiet wisp of smoke.

The master’s hands typed furiously in unison. In our room, all eyes were staring.

“For those monks watching, that is his saliva into steam.” The young man proudly declared.

“I see you are a Divinity of fire,” Our Divine said.

“One that water cannot put out.” the young man laughed.

“Water is more than water,” Our Divine replied.

“Indeed tricky, but not because you can put fire out. You have been trying to kill not my flames, but kill me by sucking out the moisture from my body. I assume that is the tingle I feel in my mouth.”

Before the young one finished talking, he threw his arms forward, and from it a whip – seemingly drenched in fuel and burning in loud flashes – extended forward to the face of Our Divine. As Our Divine made his move away from the whip, the young man twisted his wrist to thrust the whip onto the robe of Our Divine. It caught fire in an instant, yet without any panic, Our Divine drew water from nowhere with his hands. Water flowed from both his hands; the water fell and dampened his robe to still the flame.

“What you wear is a source of more fire for me. Even you, yourself, every drop of fat in your body. My fire is limitless, but you will run out of what you control.” The young man said.

“Yes, but you are in my Church.”

“Will you squeeze one of your own monks dry just to have enough water?”

“The one they don’t know is you,” Our Divine answered.

The young man continued. “It does not matter; water is limited, unless you are capable of drawing moisture from outside of the tower. Heat, on the other hand, naturally transfers. You are in a finite system; I have the world’s heat at my disposal.”

Our Divine suddenly pulled down a lever on the side of the altar, and from the ceiling over hundreds of ice shards, each over the length of a palm, shot in all directions around the altar-church. The Young Divine surrounded himself in flames in an instant; a large puddle started to accumulate at his feet, and re-frosting into a glowing white patch.

Without hesitation, Our Divine jumps onto the altar behind, and leaps off; the altar revealed itself to be encasing a giant block of carved ice, on which Our Divine stood to launch himself straight towards the young one. As Our Divine traveled, his lips moved and the fallen ice shards scattered across the church re-gathered to take flight with him, each on a trajectory to pierce through the young man’s body. His flames is no longer there.

In what seemed like a cornered defeat, the Young Divine stood still and closed his eyes, speaking silently. All of a sudden, Our Divine falls through the air with the ice block completed melted – and splashing upon Our Divine. In the moment He screams, every single ice shard falls out of their air and shatter upon each other on the ground.

Collapsing on the floor with all the ice shards, Our Divine slowly raised his head. That’s when we saw the burns on His neck; the huge block of ice He was standing on had been turned into scalding water, clamping tightly onto the body of Our Divine through his robe.

“I acknowledge your reign.” Our Divine said. “But one last thing.”

Before he could finish, Our Divine’s hands were brought to his chest in a desperate attempt to rip off not just the robe, but his own flesh. His tongue stuck out, almost panting, and that was when the Young Divine broke his silence.

“Those who are watching, can you analyze this? I am concentrating heat within him, and roasting him from within. There is no amount of water that is a counter.”

Half of the monks run towards Our Divine; the other half run towards the Young Divine, falling before his feet.

The Young Divine's voice echoed in the altar-church. “Fire is merely an illusion of heat. The last move could have been my first move, but the game would have ended too soon.”

He then started to whistle an odd tune in joy, and looked at Our Divine, still heavy-breathing on the ground.

“I will have you know that you live by my mercy.”


"Hidden Venus"


In my dream I could walk; but I know I cannot keep dreaming, because I will die if my only wish is to sleep and dream.

One day my dreams involved a world where there was nothing. It was pure white. I was walking, not on ground, but pure whiteness.

The nothingness prompted me to find something other than myself. I listened carefully, and found the sound of water. I walked in three different directions before I could confirm where the sound was coming from. As I continued walking, a river of silver slowly came into focus. It did not look like water, but flowing silver, running freely and splashing. Continuing upstream, I eventually found a hole from which the silver was bursting forth. I touched the silver; it felt like water. Knowing it was a dream, I jumped into the hole.

Inside the hole was complete darkness, yet it was not a darkness accompanied with fear. Like before, I looked and listened for anything beyond myself. There was nothing I could see, but a mild difference in the shade of black which surrounded me. I walked towards the lighter shade of black; slowly, there seemed to be a light. As I continue to approach, I can see that it was a great nebula. A beautiful, structured nebula of petal-shaped wisps, cyan green and sparkling with newborn stars. The nebula’s mass seemed to pull me towards itself with its gravity. Eventually, its glaring light enveloped me whole.

I am returned to the previous world. Yet the silver river was gone; this time there was no sound of water to be heard. I watched and listened. Suddenly it hit me: there was no sound, but a vibration in the distance.

Walking towards the vibration, the whiteness on which I walked seemed to shake harder with each step. In the distance, a black spot revealed itself to be a giant machine running – perfectly silent, but vibrating every second or so. The machine towered over me, all its internal mechanisms exposed with beautiful complexity, each part moving to its own rhythm in harmony. Suddenly, it disappeared.

I was alone again in the world of nothingness. Slowly, I felt a warmth radiating from one side. I continued walking, attempting to approach what beckons. The warmth became stronger and closer, yet it did not become hotter. If anything, it became more comfortable, slowly sinking into my skin and wrapping everything within its softness. I could not see.

Yet there seemed to be a hand gently touching my cheeks.

I awake.
But I am still motionless on the bed, as I have been for years.


"Hidden Saturn · Hidden Sun"


“If the entirety of humanity’s existence is threatened by an external force beyond our reach, what are the chances that all of us would join together in a collaborative effort? Zero. Camaraderie and love can fundraise, but only war, business, and accentuated hatred can pool enough resources for a successfully-instrumented strategy.”

Sunlight filled the courtyard garden, over-sized and lush, enveloping a white breakfast table. Two sit face-to-face, browsing through stacks of papers while sipping tea.

“Falcon,” one of them spoke. “Remind me again of the status of the Black Militia invasion.”

“Imperial Patriarch; the Black Militia has executed 3 journalists from the West District 6, tested a missile launch directed towards the Beydon Energy Plant, and set up two street-bombs in the District Core within the past ten days. D6’s Parliament is seeking approval for defense. Do you think it is ready for intervention?”

“No, let it breed. The last tri-national war only brought in four trillion. I see potential in this one to do more.”

“Imperial Patriarch; the reports this morning on the Fallsein Region on page three is worthy of your attention.”

“Both sides of the conflict are only middle-income countries, there is not much to reap. However, the new prince from the South Eastern core is an interesting one to watch.”

As if rehearsed, Falcon presented his case. “He’s been building a movement on national pride, while stirring up unrest in the mid-aged unemployed. It was bound to happen with the Anish corporations crashing the South East stock market with their flood of underpriced products. They seem to have a heavy pool of corporate subsidies, and will not hesitate to launch economic war.”

The royalty quickly replied. “The culture in the South East is, unfortunately, one of peace. I do see potential in involving the tribal Tharat, to hook the Hastersh regime into the game. They have tremendous hidden wealth, and have been seeking to give Tharat land to rule over in the Anish region. A third, wealthy country involved would be the only reason I pursue this one.”

“Imperial Patriarch; are there any interventions to issue at the moment?”

“Let this one organically evolve. Back to the Black Militia, however, order them to set up another five street bombs to silence the upcoming District 6 election.”

“Imperial patriarch; what would be our target?”

“I foresee over 7.5 trillion in this war. Make war happen, Falcon.”

“Understood, Imperial Patriarch.”

After a short period of silence, broken by flipping of papers glowing golden in the sun, Falcon speaks up again.

“Imperial Patriarch; there is one report in heavy circulation from District 47. Again, another documenting our profits with critical evidence. Did you want me to summarize the report for you, or read it for yourself?”

“I will read it for myself.”

“Imperial Patriarch; I fear it might be hard to take in.”

“I will read it for myself,” the adamant voice rang throughout the courtyard. “I will do everything to face what is to fall upon humanity. Alone.”


"Hidden Neptune"


This is my account of what happened, before I passed out.

Through my best friend Anen, I became a believer over three years ago. She was high up in rank, and her rank benefited my progression in the cult.

That day was momentous. It was the first time I had the opportunity to witness and record one of the three Highest-Rituals of our faith. And, see him, Our Divine, face to face.

We were led to the top level in the Forlorn Enclosure. There was no view at 364 floors into the sky; everything was encased in darkness and candles. They took all our phones and other electronic devices before we entered the ritual altar. They said electronics wouldn’t work anyways.

I was one of ten young women, the “scriptors”, to record everything said in the ritual. We knelt in a row, dressed in the same robes. Anen, pregnant at the time, knelt beside me.

The black curtains unveiled a tall male figure. He was not facing us, and was hooded. He stood while we all knelt in a row. “Empty your mind,” was all he said, in a voice that was surprisingly ordinary in stark contrast to all the fantasies I had about Our Divine.

As we continued to bow and let time pointlessly pass, all of a sudden a loud female voice spoke. Instinctively I looked both ways at the row of women kneeling. There was no one talking. The female was loud, almost arguing in a language I could not understand. Anen looked at me with her droopy eyes and whispered.

“She has fallen upon him.”

The female voice was sharp, and soon switched to our language. She called Our Divine by his first name, a name I cannot say. I soon realized that Our Divine would not be putting on a one-man show to impress ten ordinary female believers like us. An unseen force was upon him, taking over his body to speak. To speak, to him.

The female voice demanded that he build another church in District 116. She said she has the tower ready for us. She said the tower currently named “Puritan” would become our fourth Church of Seraphs; its current owner is a man whose son is wasting away due to illness. She demanded that Our Divine write to the man. She went on to reveal details of the sick son's condition: that the boy has been entirely symptom-free during the day, but hit by a fever every night at 2am – a fever that cannot be suppressed by any known medication, a fever without any known cause. The fever has ravaged the son’s brain tissues for over a month now, and to this day, the son’s legs have already lost the ability to walk. She said that all of this is a secret to the outside world and is known only to the man and his third wife. She demanded that Our Divine perform any ritual to his own liking, while she herself will remove the disease from the son – in exchange for ownership of the tower and dedication from the man’s family. I recorded all this down.

Our Divine suddenly turned his face towards us; I screamed. In what seemed to be one of the most freakish face-swaps I have seen, the center of his face was hollowed out, revealing a wooden, carved, yet moving face of a thin-eyed woman, brows high and curling up in a seductive stare. The eyes turned to me as my scream breaks through the silence of the church. I will never forget the words said to me.

Any of you leak this, and the same fever falls upon you.

Suddenly, Anen stood up, face distorted in a strange excitement. Our Divine fell to the ground, visibly exhausted, though his eyes were eyes which continued to smile. I turned away from Our Divine to look at my friend.

Anen takes on the sharp voice of the female force. I started to quiver. Anen was touching herself all over, two hands aggressively grabbing at her own flesh, and finally centering themselves firmly around the baby in her belly. The sharp voice issued some sort of blessing over the baby that I cannot recall, but I clearly remember the voice saying this: that the baby will grow up to belong to her.

Then Anen started to cry. The sobs were markedly low and deep, her expression entirely frozen while her mouth let out the most sorrowful sobs I have heard. It took me a while, but soon my heart tightened: those were the sobs of my grandfather who passed away seven years ago. Anen looked at me and called my name with my grandfather's voice, and at that moment I was ready to dart out the door. The other women held me down. Anen, or my grandfather, recounts an incident that no one outside of our family ever knew.

One morning when I was seven years old, my mother asked me to get out of bed to turn off the stove, “when the alarm sounds in fifteen minutes,” she said. She then rushed out the door for work; I fell back asleep, semi-conscious, waiting for the alarm to sound. In my mind I lay there half-listening, though the alarm never sounded; in reality, all of it was perhaps a deep dream, while I slept for two hours. I woke up to the smell of not burning food, but burning metal. I panicked and called my mother from work.

When she arrived, she found my baby sister, eight months old at the time, dead in her crib from carbon monoxide poisoning. I survived with the window in my room wide open on a warm spring day.

Anen, possessed by my grandfather, suddenly switched from his sobs to a fiery rage. I had never seen my grandfather raise his voice in his life; when he was alive, he never once blamed me and would hold me while I secretly cried over what happened. Anen, however, was furious, and I am sure I heard curse words thrown in the rant that followed. He asked me to repent with the rest of my life, or else face what I deserved as a murderer of one’s own baby sister. “Listen to your sister,” he said, as the last thing I clearly remember. Anen suddenly threw her face up, eyes rolled back and white, crying with the unbearable shrieks of a baby. It was my sister; years have passed but I could still recall, but that only made it worse. The shrieks went on and on as I watched a pregnant woman’s head toss in angry sobs, violent, tangible sobs which plastered my face, and I remembered no more.


"Hidden Pluto · Hidden Earth"


Two grown men meet at 1:30 in the morning at Station 112. One finishes a bite of a burger as he gets off the train. The other hangs up his phone. The two do not talk when they see each other; wearing the same color of a woven, misty grey hoodie, they start walking in unison.

In the night, the two skillfully take themselves through various security measures of a hospital that they seemed to have targeted, all the way up to the 52nd floor.

One man takes out a lighter and a paper packet, folded into a neat square enclosure with something rustling inside it. He lights the packet on fire, and tosses it on the ground.

One by one, the nurses on watch begin their sleep.

The men turn off the lights in the ward. Through the smoke, they walk straight towards a room with an unconscious, heavily tubed girl. Beside her bed is her mother. The two men look at the mother, sleeping face down; she does not hear them. The men begin their hand signals to each other.

          The daughter or the mother?

                    Daughter’s in persistent coma. Mother. Very high on the scale.

          Look at the food left on the table though. She is not even eating.

                     But you brought it right?

          I did. Still, can’t do much if she’s not eating.

                     Well I guess this was a waste of a trip.

          Right. We can’t do it for her. But she isn’t far from it anyway.


Suddenly, moans from the room next door alert the men. They look at each other, silently backing away from the woman. They continue their messages.

          Wow. To break through our smoke.

                     Maybe there is the one we can serve.

They make their way to the other room; an overweight old man continues his moans. The two men quickly signal.

          Close. I say to use it on him.

                    Agreed.

From a sleeve, one of them pulls out what seems to be a glass perfume bottle containing a deep green liquid. He mists the eight corners of the room. As if rehearsed, the other man throws a handful of light yellow powder into the air, and holds the lighter under it. The powder erupts into a quick coral flame, and dies out. He slides the lighter away into his garments, and takes out an ointment from his other sleeve. The two men hurriedly touch up their face and arms with the ointment.

Slowly, the old man stops moaning in his bed, and the glimmering white light in front of his eyes in the dark room catches his attention. He opens his eyes, almost sitting up at full strength.

From the room beside him, the mother has come to attend to the moaning of the old man. Yet, alarmed by the white glow inside the old man's room, she hides behind the door watching.

There they stand, two angelic figures glowing entirely in white, faces kind and shining with even brighter light. They smile kindly towards the old man, now sitting completely upright despite his tubes and his giant belly. He watches with the grin and wonders of a child. There almost seems to be music in the room, but it certainly could not have been. This is a hospital room after all, but were those golden feathers and petals that she just saw floating in the air? One of the angelic figures suddenly holds out his hand forward towards the old man, and the old man holds out his own arm forward in return. Suddenly, the old man’s eyes fixated into the distance as he gasps out of delight. The auras and fluttering glows in the darkness almost overwhelm the woman, and she succumbs to this new celestial world unfolding in front of her eyes – but she was sure she saw it.

One of the angelic figures hold a syringe in his hands, inserts it into the old man’s neck, and the patient lays completely still, smiling.

The mother wakes up to the horrid reality she has just witnessed, and scrambles back to her room. Completely alert yet pretending to be asleep, she hears footstep in the other room slowly make their way out. They do not come close to her room, but towards the central nursing station. They seemed to flick on the lights outside, and eventually leave her range of hearing for good.

**************

The two men are back at the train station, waiting. A ring disturbs their silence; one of the men take out a phone and checks the message. He looks at his companion.

“Next mission already? Going to be a busy night," his companion asked.


Ea I


She sits in the very back, trying to drown out a noise with her music. It cannot work.

Between a whimper for help and a child's command, the man's moaning goes on and on. In the air, the moaning fathers an unbearable anxiety, over whatever pain or malfunction that fathers the moan.

She looks at the man.

He is a large, overweight man on an electric wheelchair. His eyes look upwards; one arm is stuck in a clawed position to his side. He seems to be unaware of the noise he is making, and everything else on the bus.

The noise goes on and on.
The noise repeats itself.
Suddenly, she takes off her headphones.

She pulls out a pen from her backpack, and marks on the back of her hands the looping pattern:
--. -. .. . --. .- .-- .-. .. -. . .- -- .-- . .-.

*******

"My Name is Nyaemias"


Ea II


Ea pulls out her phone and enters the search term: "nyaemias"

There is a sole video link to the man. 23 hours and 44 minutes long. Of him sitting in an empty room aside from the white chair he is on. He is looking at the ceiling, moaning - throughout the entire video.

She clicks through the video and gets off the bus.

*******

Upon arriving at home, she slams her bedroom door. No one is home again. At least these days, the men are not brought home.

She pulls up the video to extract its audio, and speeds it up.

There are no conventional breaks between words, but only long pauses that divide the entire audio into 140 long segments.

She starts decoding. The first long segment reads:

X.2.0700OOOOOOOOOOOOOOZZZZZ$ZZZZZZZZZZZ$ZZ
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ$$Z$$$$$7$$$$$$$7$$$7$$
$$$$$$ZZZZOOO€O€€€€€€O?,:++?IIIIIIIII777777777777$

She does not give up.


The First Three Segments



"X.2.0700OOOOOOOOOOOOOOZZZZZ$ZZZZZZZZZZZ$ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
ZZZ$$Z$$$$$7$$$$$$$7$$$7$$$$$$$$ZZZZOOO€O€€€€€€O?,:++?IIIIIIIII777777777777$ "


"€€€€€OOOOOOOOOOOOOOZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ$$$$ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
$$$$7$$777777777$$$$$$$$$$$$$ZZZOOOOOOOOOZ$::++?IIIII777$7777777777777777 "


"€€€OOOOO€OOOOOOOZZOZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ$$Z$$$..$OZZZZZ$ZZZ$Z$
$$$$777777I7777$7$$$$$$ZZ$ZZZZZOOOOOOZI:~.,:=+IIIII77777777777777777777$ "


Ea's Reading

All 19600 Characters, in 140 Segments.

X appears once.




The Tryst

She recognizes the painting. It was on the papers twenty-three years ago on Monday, September 17th, when the painter – a young girl – went missing. The city held a ceremony at the local gallery, honoring the painter and the painting.

Ea marks down the monthly occasion. 2nd of the month, 7am in the morning.

***

March 2nd, 07:00.

In the emptiness of the early morning, she’s been circling the art gallery, waiting for something to happen. In secrecy. Knowing, that something ought to appear.

From behind, a boy walks up to Ea.

He opens up an umbrella over her head.

“It was my father’s favorite painting.” He said.

Slightly shaken, Ea looks up at the boy. He is in his teenage years. Brown hair, pale skin. And a motionless expression.

She could see the resemblance. And the same distance in the eyes.

***

The boy continues. “He said he saw the same vision. He says he can see that world, the one the painter visited. A world of unseen natural beauty, magnificent creatures, towering plants, and…human beings who were taller than buildings. He was autistic.”

Ea stared at him.

“He said he could not paint with colors, but he could paint with his voice….”

***

Ea spoke. “Where is he right now?”
The sunlight on the side of his face disappeared. And it started to rain.
After a moment of silence, the boy says calmly. “He’s dead.”

***
Her face told him that she didn’t understand. So the boy went on.
“My father died in a robbery assault. He was an obvious target; frail, awkward, not able to communicate much aside from moaning. They killed him just over a year ago.”

The boy gave her time.
“And so what was on the bus was…” Ea asked.

“His corpse.”


The Tryst II

“Believe what you will. I could just as easily tell you that I’m making all this up for fun because I am a bored and useless youth. But here is the true story. After his death, I really did miss him. I grew used to hearing his moans; I could see the colors in the painting by listening to him. The hidden figure in the sea. The silver-lining on the clouds…every stroke.”

“I told myself that it was not to be the end of my father. I sold his body. For money. They bought him for an average price; because I told them they cannot deform it further. They bought it, and brought him back to life. As a robot. But not really. My father has no artificial intelligence; he is just mobile skin encasing an audio device, repeating the same pre-recorded audio.”

***

“They use him. As bait. He still is the obvious victim that he was. They send him around the city to fish out potential predators and offenders. But as a machine, my father can no longer be hurt. No matter how bad he gets cuts up in the alleys and bushes….the medics just sew him up.”

***

“My father, now, saves lives. He diverts certain attention and aggression away from real people, real victims. He helps throw people in jail for attacking him. He baits out criminals.”

The boy winks. But he doesn’t smile.


The Tryst III

“So it was you all along. Why this?” Ea asked.

“You're right. I used my father's message. I guess I just want…someone who listens. Someone who can understand, and not dismiss what I have to say because they are too stupid to comprehend all this. Someone who knows, how proud I am of my father.”

Ea gives him a smile. “I think your father feels the same about you. How is your mother?” Ea said.

“I am alone. You?”

“Similar. But I have my sister.”

“What’s she like?”

“Younger and more pretty…good with people. I don’t really need to take care of her. My parents asked me to though.” Ea laughs. At herself.

“I’m sure she’s proud to have you too.”

“No she doesn’t really.”

“No?”

“I’m proud to have her though.”

The boy looks up towards the sky. “Mom and Dad. They entrusted her unto you. But it doesn’t mean that your sister should be the center of your life. It sounds like she leads her own life. And that makes you lose your center. Tell me, how much free time did you put into solving the mystery of my father?”

Ea did not speak.

“You are looking for more in life. I can tell. Something more than just handling your parent’s legacy.”

Ea smiles and looks at him. “You are a clever boy.”

He smiles. “Well, a loss of someone so close never fails to change us.”

Ea turns her face away. “My parents died together. They were part of the mass-suicide that happened 5 years ago. You probably saw the incident on the internet and laughed at it…anyway, it was good talking to you.” She walked away.

“Wait. Could I have your number?”

She felt like it was wrong. That something terrible was going to happen.

Something big was going to change. That nauseating feeling when the roller coaster tips over the top and

she gives him her number. Looking, for that change in her life.


"The Story of K'tai"


A man and a woman sit in the hospital room. They look down at a girl in her twenties. She has her eyes wide open. But does not move.

The woman turns to the man: “maybe this is family life.” She smiles.
The man is silent.
The woman continues. “Remember those days. When she used to cry at night and she just wouldn’t shut up. I’d tell you to get up, and you’d simply turn to sleep on your other side. Remember the peace and quiet we’ve enjoyed for a while when she first moved out.”
The man speaks. “And remember how often you’d call her?”
“Of course. You did too. But we can’t always have everything. Just like how she wouldn’t always pick up.”

The woman continues.
“Now, I want her to be silent. Peaceful, quiet. Obedient. Yes, obedient. I want her to lie down, and rest. I want her to know we are here and that we love her, and that is all. I want her here with me, and she never disobeys that command of mine. She is my good daughter.”


“I want her back. She doesn’t listen to mine.” The man says.
“Call me monstrous, but I like her this way. I like her. I like her in every way. Will we accept this and move beyond the pain?”
“Of what? Of when it all began?”

She stood up, hair flaring.
“Don’t you dare speak of the incident in front of her. She could be listening.” The woman screams at the man. She calms herself down.

“I love you.” The man’s voice is deep.
“I love you too, but now I love my daughter a little more.” The woman says playfully to the man ,“you don’t listen as well.”

“I know you are trying hard to accept this. I know you are trying to cope. I know you want her –”
“To be happy.” The woman cuts him off.

The man stands up and gets ready to leave. “Are you sure you will visit every day? I mean, this is probably my last time seeing K'tai in a long time. When that new job starts, I won’t be here with you all the time.”

The woman cries uncontrollably.
“Tell me what you are really thinking.” The man says.
“I can’t do this. I can’t do this alone. If you and her were both gone I would kill myself. I would kill myself right now. The only reason why I am still here, I am still sitting, trying to talk is because you are alive. I can’t bear to let you live, losing your daughter and then your wife.”
“I will live on. Do you trust me?” The man asked in his deep voice.
“Taking care of her consumes me. Motherhood is all that is left of me. But this mother is such a bad one. I cannot even make my daughter smile. Not once.”

“I’m sure if she could, she would.”
“Can you save me? Can you save me from this?” The woman looks up, staring into his eyes.
He looked into her eyes. Rose-colored. It is dark, a color that carries the scent of burning wood. He remembers her as a girl, when he’d watch her in class. And know in his heart that he will take care of her one day.
She was a girl. Now she is a mother. Because of him.
She looked forward to being a mother.

And he will take care of her.

*******

He takes her home from the hospital. He asks her out. She smiles. They go for a movie. And a dinner. After dinner, they go for desert. It was coffee and raspberry-flavored cake. After dessert, he takes her up the rooftop terrace. They watch the stars.
And they go to bed. Like when they were first married. He made love to her for a long time. They fall asleep.
He gets out of the bed at night.
And shoots her in the head. She falls silent.
And unlike her daughter, she falls completely silent.



K'tai's Mother, 434-486


Father


He lets out a sigh of relief. Seeing her lie still in a bed tainted red.
Eyes closed.

*******

You will call me a monster. I killed her. But I know, if I am to be a man, I will take care of K'tai alone.
Kara was never the kind to take loss well. When I first started working full time, she’d cry when I was gone. I’d forget something at home. Return, to see her red face and nose. Trying to smile at me.
I know why she lived on. I know why she lived on in agony. I know why she puts on a show of her adjusting. Me. She does this all for me.
Of course I will miss her, and I will blame myself for killing her. I will wish I have never done it.
You tell me there is another way. You tell me time will heal Kara, and I should wait it out.
But can you understand
how much it hurts inside, to see someone I love
love me in a way that hurts herself day after day.
It is my greatest weakness, my love for her.
You tell me I have no right to make that decision for her. I do this with the assurance I have as her husband for thirty years.
The moment I am out of her life, she would have ended it herself. I am the only thing in her way. If I could, I would remove myself in an instant for her to go where she wants to go.
But K'tai is still my daughter.
I will take care of K'tai alone. I’ve tried to bear all burdens of this family alone. This will be the same.


Ea V


What did the boy mean by “they”? Why are there still news of assault and crime? Who funds “them”? News on recent assaults – are they all actually performed on “dead” agents, and reported as real assaults only to deter further crime? If this were true, how is this kept a secret? If it is not true, why is the boy making up this story? I guess I can find out easily enough by trying to assault a frail-looking person to see if they’re actually alive. But if they were alive, I would have committed a crime. If they were not alive, why would I expose this mechanism which works to prevent crime?

Is Nyaemias even a real name? What is the boy’s name? Why didn’t I ask. Are there others that have solved the code and met the boy? Does he also have their numbers as well? How could I go about to find these others who have solved the code?
Why did the painter disappear? What vision is this? Why would two people have the same vision? Is there anything hidden in the painting, anything else in Nyaemias’ code?
Who else knows about the boy and the agent? If I am not the first one, how did the others respond when they found out about all this? Where are these people? How can I secretly get in touch with them. Why did I leave the boy without getting more information from him? Why did I just leave.
Yes…he mentioned Mom and Dad.

Ea walks slowly to the library archives, checking to see if she’s being followed along the way. The rain soaks her hair. She does not care.
She investigates the archives, and finds the story and a series of related events.
Five years ago. An autistic man on an electric wheelchair was assaulted by three teenagers when returning home from the pharmacy late at night. He went out to get asthma medication for his son, but never returned home. They found him knocked out of his chair in an alley. The assailants took his phone. Police says he slowly bled to death, cut off from the world. They found the assailants three weeks later, school friends of the man’s son. They claimed they had no idea that the victim was their friend’s father. The son confirms in court that he never let anyone know that the man was his father, for fear of being labeled as autistic.
The son committed suicide three weeks later. Ea’s eyes stare.
Her phone rings. She checks her text.

*******

Just like I knew how it was going to rain
I know your sister has gone missing


Flashback




The painting at the gallery


The Disappearance of Nieve


Ea runs back home. The apartment is empty; as it usually is. It is a weekend after all.
She calls the police anyways, and tells them that her sister has not been home for 20 days already.
She calls her sister’s friends, those that she knew. One by one they confirm that her sister is not with them. She stops calling after the 24th friend, as each “no” adds to her anxiety.
Her sister is still not home.
She decides to continue calling.
47 calls. No one is with her sister.
But her sister has many friends. More than she could know about.
She texts the boy she met at the gallery, who would not reply. The texts go from “how did you know” to “what have you done to her”. “Where are you” and “Let’s meet once again” and “I’ll give you anything you want.”
She sees her sister in the mall in her head. In her head, it is another shopping spree. Followed by a party. Followed by what she doesn’t want to know. She shakes her head. It’s not the first time her sister has disappeared; she’s done it many times, with many men and women. But this time the unsettling call from the boy consumes her.

As usual, her sister does not pick up her calls.
She messages her. Texts her.
The police reports back to her on the location of her sister’s phone. It is in her home.
That moment she pulled that thing out from the darkness, she almost shook.

The phone was under her sister’s bed.
She asks the police to track the boy’s number. Police report that the last time the boy’s phone was still connected, the location was in the art gallery. Then the signal was lost; perhaps the phone was turned off.
She rushes back to the gallery, and asks to check for security tapes. She has reported the boy as a suspect.
But the tapes show the boy staring at the painting for close to an hour. And that he leaves the gallery the moment she arrived at home.
8:14 am.
She suspects the worst. The boy knew that she would be out to find him that morning. The boy knew how crime works. The boy was a victim of crime. The boy knew exactly what
An alibi is.

Back at the library archives, she researches past cases of kidnapping or people gone missing in her District. 47 towers, 287 residential floors, roughly 50,000 inhabitants.
Not a single case in the past 4 years. There has been a sharp decline.
Or, a certain will to eradicate all reports of such incidents.
She digs deeper into the files. She finds a single disputed case. The girl said she left willingly, and to this day would not speak of what happened to her when she went missing for 13 days.
Helon was her name.
Ea takes off to find “Helon”, leaving a note at her sister’s bedroom door.
“Call me. Love, Ea”


K'tai: The Conference Call


Sometime into the future, K'tai lies still on her bed.

In the hospital, people are in discussion.
“The mother was killed. Shot to the head.”
“And the father?”
“Heart failure yesterday. The family won’t have money to pay for the patient's continued care.”
“Anyhow, so what’s stopping us from executing the normal procedure?”
“Dr. Heirk is away today.”
“Well, as a hospital, we can afford to give the patient another 24 hours.”
Sometime into the future, K'tai lies still on her bed.




K'tai's Father, 436-486


The Calling"


“Good afternoon Dr. Heirk speaking”
“I want one by tomorrow. Preferably a girl. Who do you have.”
“Good timing. I have one in her twenties. I can do tomorrow.”
“I don’t want a dead one. Would she happen to be in vegetative state?”
Dr. Heirk laughs loudly. “I see you’ve done your research. You must be well connected to the hospital?” In her mind, Dr. Heirk carefully analyzes the voice on the other end of the line. An older lady, speaking with authority. Age has given her calm control over her voice, yet has not taken away any bit of its smoothness. Heirk cannot recognize who it is right away.
“You could say I’ve been watching.” The voice says.
“So you know I’m supposed to euthanize her.”
“And I know you are a competent doctor. Fool the hospital, like you do so well.”
“I’m glad we’re having this conversation. You are from the hospital aren’t you?”
“I don’t answer blunt questions.”
“Here’s the deal. I give you the girl for free. You keep my business running.”
“I don’t even want commission on your future sales. Just give me the girl. K'tai, I believe her name is.”
“Deal. Regular pick-up location.”
“Thank you for your business.”
“One condition. Or, one plea. I sell dead bodies, not live people. This one is in persistent vegetative state, as you may know. I beg you, not to do anything that would harm her. Even though she has limited consciousness, have your fun – but make it good for her okay? I know you can. Make it enjoyable for the two of you. Maybe you can even keep her for a long time, but I really don’t want to see this one suffer any more. She’s just lost both her parents.”
“You have my full trust. I’ll treat her like my own daughter.” The old lady hangs up.

*******

“Grandma! Are we really going to get her tomorrow?” the little girl jumps in excitement.
“Yes. This time, it’ll be her.”


The Calling II,
or "Revealing Venus"


The body in the dark is joined by two.
"Give the fruit to her."
The young one took out a piece of round, white pulp from her mouth.
"Chew for her.”
The girl put the fruit back in and started chewing. She then kisses K'tai who is lying unconsciously.
A pale white face, hair overgrown. Lit dimly by gray light.
A pair of hands reached towards her neck. The old lady massaged K'tai's throat to let the pulp slide in.

They hold her hand. The three walk out towards the light.


K'tai's World


48 billion human beings, yes, real human beings
Living in a little over 1500 skyscraper clusters composing of

174 nations, all gathered together in an ultra-dense core.

All the world has come together, surrounded by a decaying Wilderness of shifting, amorphous mass.

It is like an atom.

The architectural ruins of the old city, vacant, shaken, and burnt – they lie quietly in the surrounding, melding with the living mass


Synopsis: Ea line


In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor – an infectious cancer that can spread through contact – Ea’s world lies in a hyper-dense core of mega-skyscrapers surrounded by an oceanic wilderness of cancer cells.

Ea encounters a strange disabled man on the bus repeating his moans in a braille-esque message which leads to his real name. Upon searching his name on the internet, she unlocks another video of the man using the same braille-esque message to encode an entire painting which Ea recognizes. The painting has one legible line: X.2.0700. On the 2nd of the coming month, 7am, Ea wanders to the gallery holding the painting. A mysterious boy named Mar appears to explain that he is part of a crime-fighting ring which uses part-android corpses to fish out criminals, whom in turn are turned into frail-looking androids to be spread through the city as lures to catch more criminals. The boy asks Ea for her number, and discusses her family.

Ea gives him her number, and later receives a text from the boy about how he knows that Ea’s younger sister, Nieve, has gone missing. Ea then suffers through weeks of searching for her sister and Mar with complete failure, leading her to realize from the newspaper archives that no missing-person reports have been filed for years – which seems to suggest that Mar’s story of a functioning crime-fighting ring is a reality. The last kidnapping case is of a girl named Helon.


Synopsis: K'tai line


In a strangely pure world, a young girl and her grandmother jump into the sea for a birthday celebration.

In another world, a young patient in vegetative state is being visited by her parents. The father discusses having to go back to work and leaving the mom alone in the task of full-time care of the daughter. The mother remains as calm as she could, but the father realizes that she is only holding onto life because she does not want to leave everything to her beloved husband.

The husband chooses to end his wife’s life and bear the burdens of caring for an unconscious child alone.

Later, the hospital management hold a meeting to discuss how to deal with the unconscious patient as the father was found killed in a vehicular-accident, a rarity in their world. One of the higher-level doctors receives a call from someone asking to purchase the body of someone in vegetative state. The person on the line seems to know about the doctor’s business of selling patient-parts and patients; the doctor offers to give the body for free in exchange for secrecy of the deal.

The grandmother and granddaughter retrieve the body; feeding K’tai a piece of fruit, K’tai was able to walk with them towards a bright world.

As they depart, the world of K’tai grow smaller into the distance, looking like a contained atom.



↘ [Continue]

Ea: Finding Truths


There was a knock on the door. The old lady in red stands up slowly, and lets the visitor in.

Three women stand around the tea table. Helon sits down last, swiftly brushing her long blonde hair to her right side. She looked at the visitor with speculation, and an analytical confidence.

The visitor starts to speak. "My name is Ea, I believe you remember me from the phone call. I am so sorry. I shouldn't be disturbing you...my sister has gone missing. Someone I did not know, a stranger, set up a time to meet with me outside of home. When I returned my sister was nowhere to be found. Now I have done everything I could, I found you. I know you must have had tens or perhaps hundreds of people around you – those who know you and those who may not - ask you about this. But you are my last hope."

Helon stares emptily.

The old lady started speaking. "Ea, if I can call you that. Helon has never fully revealed her story. Not even to me."

Helon looks at Ea.

Ea started shaking. "I don't know what it is that happened to my sister, but it is this unknown that unsettles me. Anything, Helon, please. I need to know what my sister could be going through right now. Please."

"So the calm has been disturbed." The old lady said under her breath.

With her watering eyes, Ea desperately holds onto the old lady's words. "Yes, Helon, you were the last of seventeen kidnappings of young women in one year. And it ended with you. There had been no kidnappings for nearly five years until my sister."

Helon had her head to the side, eyes sinking to the floor.

The old lady looks at Helon. Helon does not look back. The old lady shakes her head, and starts speaking. "I will tell my version of the story. I do not know everything, but here is my side of it. I raised Helon alone after her father died. July 9th, 481, I came home and Helon was not there. She was not just away from home. I could feel her absence. I could feel it...I have been with her for so long. I knew she wasn't just out. It was like we became separated twins. I alerted the police. They did nothing. I looked into it on my own, like you are doing now. I found out about these kidnapped women before the police did, and the kidnapper. All of them, unanimously agree - and I have come to trust Helon's judgment on this - that the kidnapper was, I mean, is, a hero who has performed the kidnappings in order to save the world."

Ea notices tears in Helon's eyes.

The old lady continues. "He was a tall, charming doctor. The girls left with him willingly. None, in their living years, have ever called it a kidnapping. Including Helon as well. And thus, Ea, if your sister was not kidnapped...and left willingly perhaps....Helon would have more to offer. Helon?"

Helon shakes her head.

The old lady sighs. "Like I said, I don't know everything. The private detective I hired actually found Helon. She came back, the detective, only to tell me that Helon was fine – but that she’s also not coming back. Helon came back to me 87 days after I received news from the private detective. Helon came home for medical attention...she had developed two skin tumors which we treated. Now she has a health check-up every six months to monitor her cancer. I don't know whether to thank the heavens for her cancer or not...ridiculous thought...right? I must be crazy. But I was missing her so much. She came to me, and that was the end of the story. Because they never found the kidnapper."

"He died."

Helon says, in her cold, fresh voice. "Killed himself, in front of me. I took on his mission, but...not as well as he did."

"Was he part of some sort of organization? Did he have anyone else know what he was doing?" Ea asked eagerly.

Helon smiles, shedding a tear. "No! No. That's the sad part, isn't it?"

Ea takes out her drawing of the boy, and the boy's screenshots from the library's security camera. "Do you know this person?"

Helon looks at the images blankly. She starts speaking again.

"If your sister is where I was, the kidnapper would be dead. I myself would guarantee his death. Is your sister an outdoors person?"

"No, she is always in heels." Ea replies.

"A scientist?"

"Umm...she received an A in term two for Chemistry in her first year of university."

Helon laughs. "That's irrelevant. Is she in any way interested in the environment? Public health? Social justice?"

"No, that would be almost the opposite of her." Ea says.

"Then I cannot help you, and she is not in the world I was in."

"How would you know?" Ea asks, feeling like hope has been put out just as it has started to glow.

"If she is not killed. If she happens to be anywhere in my territory...I will find her. Personally. For you. She will have three to four months to live. If you don't find her by May, call me and I will make the trip."

The old lady looks at Helon with disbelief.

"In the unlikely case, that she is the one I have been waiting for." Helon ends the conversation.


Ea's Daily Entries"


No one really knows the true thoughts of the family member. When the victim is found, and the entire family appears in front of the camera for the interview, the family has nothing else to offer aside from the same trite remarks: “we’re glad to have her back”, “I missed her so much”….it is not because we are a group of numb-minded people without depth of emotion. But rather that the world we have been thrown into is so dark and deep, that by the end we’re back in the light we’d prefer never to use language and thoughts that would remind us of the past.

Do you realize, I have it worse than you. But I cannot possibly. Every moment of self-realization of the pain I am in brings me awareness of how strong your pain was – and more. And this only adds to mine.

Do I want you alive, just to see you once? If asking for your safe return is too much to ask, then once is enough. I just wanted you to know that I am okay, and I am the happiest person in the world to see you. I don't want anything else anymore, nothing else, I am going to give up everything. I can't even walk to work these days.

I want you back, but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I wish you were dead, so I know there is no hope and I cannot continue waiting endlessly like this. I would weep, but I would know you have been put to rest. A dead girl’s soul can no longer feel. But every moment of you being potentially alive is horror-ridden worry eating my mind.

I wish you were dead. I wish you well in that place. I wish I would never see you again, but only your body to know you were okay. I want it to end so you would have no pain.

And when I read these words I believe I should kill myself. A monster. Who wants her own sister dead.

I wish you were never born, that I never had a sister. That mom and dad never walked in from the front door, carrying a baby girl. And that baby girl would never smile at me with purple eyes.

It's fine everything going to be fine. i need positive thinking, it will save me, it will bring her back, and she will be back, and she will be here, and i am positive she will be back. if not i will kill myself

No one cares, no one cares about us. That friend said she cared, but I saw her at the grocery store buying milk. I said, let me buy you milk, buy all the milk in the f*cking world for you, and you can get on helping search for my sister okay?

Someone needs to do something to my brain, victimize me and render me unconscious. I need to be unable to think any longer, I need to get some mental disease right now. And it will be good.

Forgive me. Forgive me. This is happening because you won't forgive me, and it's not your fault at all, it is mine.

This is bad. Maybe you are just running off with some cute guy that I've never met, and I tell you if I see you I'm going to slap both of you.

You need to come back now. Now. Walk through the door, please now. That door will open, and I will never carry out any of these mean threats, and I am sorry. Let's start over. Let's start again, okay. Let's just go back, whichever point in time you like. You get to choose everything.

Mom and dad left us so I would be alone in bearing this experience. I hate them. But, I am glad they died, because at least they are in peace.

Perhaps nothing is wrong. Perhaps you are not in pain and torment. This is both the best thought and the worst light of hope reminding me how filthy the darkness is, the dark that ensnares my head every day.

F*ck! F*ck!! f*ck my thoughts losing sophistication, in abandonment of the pedestal I have set up separating you and me. I know how you feel now, how you think, and how it works, how your way of life actually works in the real world.

Can I die before your return? No, I need to help you. But I still want to die. So answer me, are you dead or alive?


"Zeata"


The call in the night.

A voice, faint, familar. "Can I promise you, I don't know where your sister is right now?"

Ea scrambles out of bed; she looks out the windows, phone clasped in her clawing hands.

"Where are you? Where are you right now?" Ea said, almost running out of breath.

The boy calmly answers. "I will only say this once, and if you interrupt me I will only keep going. Ready for my message? Take it as a pre-recording. Zeata, the summation of laws governing a person's actions. Think about it as the script running in us human beings as robots, as little machines, the code that defines our responses - which is inherently complex, but perhaps, not infinitely complex, suggesting that there is an upper limit, and that a defined set of laws exist for each and every person on earth. When defined in its wholeness, a person's individual Zeata contains vast amounts of information which captures and predicts all the responses the persons will have for every single situation he or she or it will encounter as a living being; in other words, a person obeys and follows its own Zeata 100% - Zeata is god. Unless a person chooses another varying god, or, another varying Zeata, there is no humanly-possible mechanism for a person to disobey its Zeata. You being you, I call you and expect 100% that you will be holding onto the phone and listening as if you are holding onto your own life. I roughly know your Zeata, and therefore I control your actions. To know a Zeata is to gain control over a life. Roughly, what is the Zeata of the person, or the people that your sister could be with right now? Start with the worst case scenario. And I will offer you one last piece of advice: to know your own Zeata is to free yourself from others attempting to control you, and to free yourself from, quite literally, yourself. Hacking Zeatas requires the hacker to be aware of her own vulnerability to being hacked. And I’m done hacking you now."

He hangs up immediately. Ea quickly records the time, and calls the police in hopes of retrieving a location.


Hack. 18+


Do you know that feeling

When a task that’s been draining up all of your life

Is done. As simple as that

Almost too easy

While your greatest fear, the greatest of them all

Is revealed to be true, as simple as that?

Almost too easy.

*******

It is a Saturday. She plans for the worst.
There are many revealing outfits of Nieve’s to choose from, all sitting motionless in an empty bedroom. Ea rips one up, and slips into the tattered dress that was made even more revealing.
Lipstick, silk stockings, hair, and all kinds of Nieve’s makeup.

She let herself go in public. She knew the subject matter so well; as much as she hated it, she plays an even more sexualized Nieve.

It almost feels good, to believe Nieve was alive and walking the streets. Playing Nieve brought a strange calm within Ea.

Men whistle and wink and try to lay hands. The others give looks of ridicule; pity; some, envy. She looks like Nieve after all.

She does not enter clubs, but wander the buildings. After stopping for some food, she leaves an eatery and immediately she feels something strange in the air.
She looks up.
She meets strange gazes from three men. Too clear: the difference between lust, and shock.
The men stood still, almost flinching.

*************************

Ea had played this scenario in her head so many times. She tells herself not to react; not to chase. She simply stands there, leans forward, and says:
“Want to know what’s going on? Follow me.”

*************************

She leads them back into her apartment. She fears losing them, and turns around to glance seductively to ensure they follow.
They follow, and mutter things under their breath. Ea does not catch all of it, but just one piece of it was enough.
“I thought you hid the body.”

*******************

They arrive in the lobby.
They are in the elevator.
They are in front of her door. She unlocks it, and turns the knob. But she does not move.
Eventually, one of the men pushes her in.

Inside her apartment, the men look at her. One of them closes the door.
“Do you recognize me?”
The men try to look at each other. They do not answer.


Ea walks towards them and kneels. She takes off their belts and jeans.

The men surrounded her.

*******

Sex, one after the other, in many different ways to satisfy many different interests.
In her was a fire, a great, whitening flame, a sad child's curiosity to know
what happened to her sister during what was perhaps the last moments of her life
and to share in her pain.

She treasured every minute of this knowledge, and cried inside at how much it must've hurt.

*******

But after twelve minutes or so, she tells them to wait so she can change into something else, something sexier. The men wait outside, and she contacts the police.
She changes, and heads back out to join the men.

*******

She takes all the initiative in their play; she is playful and eager, but not too eager. For she knows that there is no knowing what will happen to her if she let the men take initiative. They play for almost an hour.

The police burst in.


Death of the Ossign's


(Editor's note: 18+ content. Real transcript of 1989 kidnapping)

Positive thinking worked, to an extent. The three men are in court with Ea. But Nieve....
Ea didn't hear anything aside from what they did to her.

She was still.

"Kept captive for 44 days.
Humiliated by being kept naked most of the time
Was raped every day in both vagina and anus. She’s estimated to have gone through about 500 rapes.
Endured physical beatings included hits with golf clubs and bashing of face against cement floor
Frequently, in order to turn her rapists on, she was forced to masturbate in front of them and/or their guests
Had various objects forced into her vagina and anus, including a bottle, an iron bar, scissors, roasting needles, grilled chicken skewers, etc.
Was provided with only limited supply or food or water
Was forced to eat live cockroaches and drink her own urine
Had fireworks forced up her ass and set them off, causing serious burns
Had her left nipple ripped off with pliers
Had dumbbells dropped on her stomach while laid on the floor with hands and feet tied up – this resulted in loss of bowel control
Was hanged from the ceiling and used as boxing bag
Was kept in a freezer for several hours
Had eye lids burned with hot wax and lighters
Had breasts pierced with sewing needles
Had her vagina and clitoris burnt with cigarettes and lighters
Had hot, lit bulb inserted into her vagina and rubbed until it exploded inside"






A goddess is Born


Ea speaks.
“I’m tired. Nieve is not coming back. I am dropping the charges. Release the three men. I don’t ever want to be in court again.”
The court is silent.
“I’m done. I just want something new in my life.”
She stands up and leaves.

*******

Over the next few weeks, Ea is busy. She withdraws all the money from their parent’s bank account.
She hires contractors to work on the apartment.
“I’ve lost my sister, and I just want to move on. I’m going to convert the apartment for a home-business. And I love pets.” She smiles.
The contractors help her to install cages. And renovate the entire space for a new look. Bolder colors; a lime green accent wall.
She studies sedatives for dogs, cats, and horses while she was at it.
Then, Ea schedules herself for breast implants.
“I just want something new. I want to be someone different.” She tells the doctor.
Ea looked at her new self in the mirror. She smiles. She did not look like Nieve.
Prettier. With the make-up on.

*******

People know her in the city now. New friends. New crowds. New men. And more men.
She calls herself Xetna.
Her online profiles are filled with pictures of her smiling with cute animals.
And people like that.


The First Command


Xetna is resting her life on a few things.
That the need for sex, like thirst for water, is not quenched by one incident in a life time.
That dropping Nieve’s case would make the three men believe they can get away with things again.
That the men were truly deserving of their fate that is to come.

She remembers who they are; how can she not? Online, Xetna is into “experimenting” and “exploring anything that’s fun” on the special sections of the forums and the classifieds.

Finally, she’s caught one of the three men online. She calls him #2. She remembers him as the quiet but nasty one. They cam and chat; he does not recognize her. She asks to meet him, and also asks him to bring friends. “The more the merrier.” #2 agrees. She asks to see photos of the man’s friends. She knows exactly which two friends.

A 4p is enough for a first meet-up, she says. She asks them to bring the powder, so she’ll prepare the drinks.

*****************************

For a second time, Ea is with Nieve’s three rapists at home. The men are eager, but not so eager – over the internet, she’s prepared a script for them to follow. The first part: drink to their heart’s content. It was on her after all.

They didn’t drink too much. The drinks were laced with sedatives.

*****************************

The men wake up, each in their own cage. Xetna had partitioned the apartment suite differently: certainly not for living; now that Nieve is gone, there is no need for that. She had it partitioned for torture. Xetna is sitting on the floor with #2. He’s handcuffed to the cage, inebriated, slumping on top of cold tiles and a floor drain. Xetna holds a butter knife. #2 opens his eyes to look straight at her and smiles. “Where are the others?”
“I want you the most.” Xetna smiles back. She holds the butter knife up above the man’s face, and suddenly, she is not smiling.

“I don’t know. They would’ve let you get away from me. 8 years? 10 years? 80 years? It doesn’t matter to me. It would have been good, being fed and getting your work-outs in prison. That is the justice system. I don’t want justice. I want revenge. I want blood. I don't know if I want you neutered. Or perhaps, killed?”

#2 is not smiling any more, but too confused to understand what is going on. Xetna opens up his mouth, and sticks the blade in. He is unable to move.

She pushes the knife in. Deeper, and deeper, and deeper into his mouth.

Xetna’s cellphone vibrates in her pocket.
She leaves the knife and picks up the call. She was in no hurry.

“Ea,” the boy calls her name.
It was him.
“Ea, don’t do this. Don’t kill them. You will regret killing them.”
Ea sits on the floor, silent.
“Ea, I know how you feel. It is how I felt when my own friends killed my father. I’ve been there. But it will all pass. See how good life has become?”
Ea spoke. “And is that why, you, my dear, committed suicide?”

She drops the phone, and raised the blade high once again with both hands.
Down. One by one. Again and again. One by one. Again. Again.
The same thoughts spin in her mind.


Love without Boundaries


He took the girl away in the night, into the distant wild.
“Where are we going?”
She could not see. When he passionately made his advance earlier that evening, her glasses was knocked off and crushed. In a raw but calculated move.
She was still running with half a smile behind him under the dim moonlight; the heat has not worn off. But it is starting to. She was sweating, a lot, especially when thinking about the fact that they have not been running on concrete for a while.
And that slow, low-pitched gurgling in the dark. It was killing her.

I
The room was full of stern faces. Most of them worried. Suddenly, someone stood up.
“Face it,” the detective said. “I’m the only one who is ready to fucking go out there in full biohazard gear, like I have done many times before, to catch this ‘hot’ doctor who is luring women of all fucking ages into the wild. I’ve gone after him before. I’ve been out there. Out of this world. Where you tell your kids not to go, and won’t even dare go yourselves. It doesn’t matter if there is an entire terrorist camp out there; you will not budge. You shudder in fear like the rest of the world just thinking about what lies beyond the boundaries. After the disappearance of the ninth hiker, I think I’m the only one who’s ever going enjoy to the great outdoors. And I’m going to enjoy it as fuck I tell you. I’m going to catch this fucking doctor, take him back here, and give him a taste of his own medicine.”
The room was silent. No one was particularly fond of the swearing, nor the puns.
The detective stood proudly.

II
The door opened. An old lady stood lifelessly.
“We caught the doctor on a street camera,” the detective said to the mother. “Your daughter has been kidnapped into the wild.”
The old lady collapsed onto the floor and wept.
The detective stared at the tears rolling off onto the linoleum floor. It glistened coldly.
The mother looked up. “And how did the kidnapper survive his first few times in the wild? If he’s survived before he’s sure able to find a way for my daughter to survive, right? Did all the other girls he kidnapped ever make it back?”
“We were never successful in capturing him. But we’ve managed to save two of the girls; they were brought back with only minor invasion and are undergoing radio and chemo with good progress. Sure the girls are sick, but they are alive. Your daughter will be too.”
The old lady stared right into the detective’s eyes. The detective took a step back; she could never take it when the family members did that to her. Entrusting their all in one soft, desperate look.

III
“I fucking hate hazmats.” The detective grabbed her crotch in her new orange attire.
She looked at what’s in front of her and stepped past the concrete boundary of her part of the world. And that same image engulfs her mind once again.
In the soft sunlight, a lab puppy, with downy blond fur. A little smile on the face with some tongue showing.
She opened her eyes and stared: a sea of off-white agglomeration, shifting slowly across the landscape. It is sometimes hard to see clearly with the naked eye; but she knew better. Those were corpses of crows and baby squirrels slowly decaying in the gluey mass.


Love, continued

IV

It.

It started from one dog. It was a pet, a beloved pet. Who later fell victim to the Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor.
Like all other cases of CTVT, the cancer starts as a lesion or a lump around the dog’s face or genitalia. Then it grows and spreads to other parts of the body in the form of a cauliflower-like growth, leading to pus and bleeding. Being one of the few known transmissible cancers, it spreads fast. From one dog to another, through biting, licking, or sniffing.
It then became the first case of animal-to-human transmission; the 8-year old girl who loved the puppy to death spent 4 months in quarantine and intensive radiotherapy; and another two years in chemo. She was surrounded by a doctor whom she loved and her ever-present parents. But she was no longer with her puppy.
She was in the hospital, and he was left unattended at home. The dog ran around the city searching for his favorite human being in this world, not understanding that it was the cancer on his left cheek that put them in this separation. Throughout the city he ran and the authorities were after him. Then his body was finally found out on a field, mutilated. Three teens who caught and killed the dog were hailed by the city as heroes, until two died of tumor invasion and dragged a sister, a mother, and two cousins with them to the grave.
The city turned against them all. The third teen later committed suicide, having suffered all forms of verbal and physical attacks for his inappropriate disposal and treatment of the puppy’s body – which should have been quarantined.
This was made apparent when other youngsters picked up pieces of what appeared to be rotting flesh and white goo from outside the city. For pranks. Their hands were vulnerable to the cancerous lesions, and it was soon understood that the tumor cells, capable of surviving in test tube conditions without an animal host, has been living as what only seemed like a fungal matter out in the wild.

These were cells eager for survival. Ravens, coyotes, raccoons, earth worms, stray cats, curious hikers, and other mystifying entities joined the crowd of corpses littering the wild.

The SEED project began to gain serious momentum.

Researchers feared that one day the tumor cells would break the animal-plant barrier to consume and absorb plant cells. Others write ferocious blog posts online about how it has already happened, showing aerial photos of a vast, growing glob. Its massive size warranted an investigation; to the surprise of scientists and the rest of the world, they were unable to detect any cells with the ability to photosynthesize. The fact that the amorphous, cancerous mass had already become a parasitic ocean without absorbing plant cells shook the nations.
Rural areas have been evacuated as precautionary measures. Even then, the cities were not safe. All streets have supervisory cameras and weekly exterminations (by fire and only fire, in order to avoid further mutations and resistances) which keep city premises free from the biohazard. The biohazard has been under control for a while now.
Until recently, when the famed Doctor threatens to cross those boundaries once again.
“A dozen of retarded women falling for one sick bastard. They won’t stop ‘til they fucking infect every tower in the city.” the detective yelled in her hazmat suit as she continues stomping across the bleak landscape.

V
“Let’s not drag this on,” the doctor said.
“Let’s not drag this on.” He said again. He then realized she wasn’t going to hear too well in the suit and rage. He tapped her on the shoulders.
In a swift motion, the orange bulk in front of him twisted around and had him on the floor. With a knife to his throat.
“Is it even legal for you to carry a knife?” the doctor said.
She ripped off the helmet. “Who’s going to catch me here?”
“You want the girl don’t you. You can’t kill me.” The doctor said to the detective.
“That’s why I haven’t.”
The doctor burst into laughter.
The detective was not impressed. “You picked the wrong place to commit crime really. I’m taking this one personally. There is literally no one here to save you except for me out here in the wild. I am not with the police. I’m private. That means, I can do what I like with you. And I am also the only one who can save you. I have a suit and I’m in a suit, and you…” her eyes widened.
“I’m not.” The doctor smiled in his blue dress shirt and off-white dress pants.

VI
The detective held her head down low as she followed the doctor deeper into the wilderness. She could not explain what was happening in front of her eyes. His walk was almost a jolly skip. How could a human being be walking without any protection against the transmissible mass? The man walked confidently, stepping on the glob without a care and looking at the surroundings with much pleasure. He smelled the air, looked at the sun, and let his teeth sparkle.
“Eve!” he yelled towards a figure in the distance.
It was the girl the city’s been looking for. The victim had long blond hair and eye brows that frowned – but a smile on her face as she moved forward to embrace her kidnapper.
‘Stockholm bitch,’ the detective uttered under her breath.

“I was so worried about you.” The girl said. She noticed the detective and turned to the handsome doctor standing beside her. “Who’s this lady in orange? Your friend?”
“I am not his fucking friend. He’s not yours either. Come back home with me.” The detective commanded.
The doctor nodded to the victim. “Yes. This lady is an old friend.”
The doctor turned towards the detective, towering over her with his height. “Alice. Nice to meet you again.” He clears his throat. “I know your pain. I know the puppy you had. I’ve seen your tears, and the anger that drove you to become who you are today. Yes….it was an honor to be with you, all those years in the hospital. Don’t you remember who I am?”
The detective was still.
“Correct. I was your doctor. And you’re the little girl with the puppy.” he smiled.
“But….you’ve changed. So much.” the detective’s voice falters.
“I know, I’m hot now. Surgeon friends from med school…we were close after all these years. Some plastic was always on the back of my mind.”
“Yes, that, but not just that. Why did you change? Why the fuck did you give up your salaried life of caring in paediatric oncology in exchange for the life of a kidnapper?”
“Because, I really care.” The doctor said.


Love, continued

VII

The doctor continued. “It’s true I’ve kidnapped numerous girls and older women and had sexual intercourse with them, but you have to know I have consent from every single one of them. My Eve here could tell you that.”

The blond girl tilted her head innocently and smiled.

“I apologize for scaring the rest of the city. But you have to know that I have absolutely no intention of killing any of these girls, nor allowing them to develop cancer by taking them into the wild.”

The detective could not hide her irritation. “How so? First of all, who in their right mind sees a bed of parasitic tumor cells as a make-out spot?”

I’m still the loving doctor you’ve known. I have simply decided to practice advanced medicine. You see this tumor, or rather, this Garden around us is not going away; for fifteen years now, we have not been able to exterminate it. Every day it threatens our city with cancer…at its peak we had 13% of the population infected. At our hospital, that peak was 21% amongst our staff. Every day, we sit and pray that none of the cells would go air-borne through further mutations. I cannot save humanity from this threat. But I have devoted my life to the search for the right woman who has the same biological immunity as I do. Open your eyes and see, Alice: my Eve and I here are not in suits.”

“So? That just means you’re both going to drop dead in a few days when the tumor gets onto you.” The detective said. “Except I’m going to take her back to her mother but leave you here with a knife in your throat.”

The doctor shook his head. “You don’t remember, Alice; this isn’t my first trip out here. I truly, have not been able to infect myself with the tumor.”
“You tried?” the detective asked in her harsh tone, which could not hide her surprise.

“Yes. Out of despair. I wanted to find a cure so bad, for all the pets, children, parents, our city, and the ecosystem, really. When we realized as a city how severe the CTVT problem has become, it was the first time in my life I’ve felt so incompetent. It was also my only failure in my life. My compassion and competency were the only things that made me human. You’ve seen how I looked back then, Alice. I was ugly. Downright hideous. When both my compassion and professional skills as a doctor were failing me, I made a decision out of despair: to become a victim myself. To become yet another careless researcher unaware of the tumor cell’s capacity to survive without a host. I wanted to become a CTVT patient like you were, so that my useless body could then be used to find a cure. And if my body could not provide a cure and I died from the cancer….I’d be freed from my pain of being useless and incompetent and helplessly watching people die around me every day. It was a win-win situation.”

The detective choked a little. “You’re helpless, doc. I respected you as a good paediatrician back then but didn’t know your life counted on it. Stop with all this non-sense. Stop putting these women and the rest of the city at risk. We haven’t had an infection in the city for years until you started crossing the boundaries again.”

The doctor continued on cheerfully. “Then I realized my plan failed utterly. Because I simply could not be infected by the parasitic cancer cells. Surprising huh? In fact, I ate it but was still okay.”

“We eat it every day and live off it,” the blonde added quickly. “There are clean parts in there, you just avoid the animals.”

“That’s right,” the doctor continued. “I knew then, that there was hope for humanity – we can co-exist with the cancer. There will be a new breed of humanity that will be able to co-exist peacefully with this intriguing life form. I am that Adam; but I needed Eve. So I went around, finding women. First, I had to do the unspeakable. I intentionally exposed them to the tumor while they were unaware, and monitored them closely to see if the women were resistant. The majority were not, as expected. I came in as the boyfriend slash surgeon slash hero who cured them of the most terrible disease, but left them after saving their lives. Oh, I broke many hearts – but, I never broke a single body. As their, should I say, intimate partner, I could carefully watch the tumor – which always started at the skin. Excision was easy, nothing really different from a wart. And as I’d hoped, after a great number of excisions, I began to meet these women who would not develop the tumor even after repeated attempts of intentional CTVT infection. I took those out to the Garden, for the ultimate test. If she was the one, the Garden would most certainly accept her.”

“They were willing to come out here with you?” The detective asked.

“Good question, none did. Not even my darling Eve here; I’ve always had to use some sort of coercion, or what you would call kidnapping. You’ve saved a few of them; none would have told you the full truth of my plans and aspirations. The truth is, they know they have nothing to gain in exposing the real story behind my kidnappings. You have to understand why none of the girls you’ve saved were willing to help you catch me. It’s not that they don’t know where I live, my number, and the most intimate details of my everyday life. No. They were not casual encounters at all. They are lovers who succumb to the greatness of the plan I have for humanity, the self-sacrifice that has become a daily routine for me, and the sorrow that they were not the one to fulfill the mission to save humankind.”

“You are insane. Insane. I was going to suggest you to fucking clone yourself instead of this Adam and Eve thing but I’d rather die than know that there’s more than one of you on earth and I’m pretty sure the rest of humanity is with me on this one just because you’re fucking out of your mind – what about the rest of us? What about the rest of us once you find Eve? What about the rest of humanity?”

“Your puppy. He was a good dog wasn’t he? You loved him, and love him still.” The doctor’s voice was soft. The detective, shaken.

The doctor continued. “It is ironic how you hate the tumor which took your puppy’s life, the tumor which made your entire family the most despised human beings in this city. You’ve even had to change your name, didn’t you Alice? Anyhow. What you don’t realize is this: the cancerous white mass around you is your puppy. It was part of him, and now still holds his cells somewhere across this land. This mass is natural. It is nature. In fact, it is the only living thing that will live to the end of the earth. Your puppy created the ultimate living being.”

The blonde beside him spoke, with new-found confidence in her voice. “Alice, look at me. I am not a victim. I am a researcher. We used to think that the cancerous mass all around us is a primal soup of ever-evolving cells which can give rise to new life.”

The doctor cut the blonde off and continued. “Yet we were mistaken. This mass is the end of it, the ultimate product of the process we call evolution. You have to realize, taking me and Eve out of the picture, you are the one in the biohazard suit while the Garden is relaxing and living all around you – where it pleases. You are at Its mercy; you can’t kill It with your stupid knife. But it can kill you. Easily.”

“I have fire. We have fire. I am a complex organism.” Alice refuted.

“And that is precisely our downfall. Think about what cancer is: it is a quest for your cells to become stronger. Once it has indeed become stronger, it can break free from surrounding cells; it can enter your blood stream; it can exit your blood stream; it can find a new home; your skin cells can even live in your brain. Metastasis is an amazing biological feat. All in all, cancer is a positive mutation that ultimately kills you, but it survives. It thrives. You were not fit enough for it; you could not co-exist with these stronger cells you had, and so you fell sick. What kills you is not cancer. It is the rest of you and its inability to co-exist with it. Now let me ask you this: have you ever heard of a unicellular organism develop cancer? No. Never. It is because when it mutates, it is still only itself – consisting of one cell. It is the cancer cell. For a hypothetical organism with two cells, when one cell mutates to become stronger it might become “cancer” to the other cell – resulting in death. If however the two-celled organism is lucky, perhaps the second cell may be biologically compatible with the cancer cell – and thus the two-celled organism survives the positive mutation we know as cancer. However. The probability of that lucky, random survival decreases for a hypothetical three-celled organism, as now two other cells must be compatible with the mutation. It decreases again for a four-celled organism. And again for a five-celled organism.”


Love, continued



VIII

“You can easily see for yourself, how an organism like you, consisting of trillions of cells, will not be lucky enough to have all of your other cells be compatible with a mutated cell. The only option is to remove the positive mutation, or cancer, from your entity. Which is not always possible, neither through medicine nor through your immune system. Realize this; positive cellular mutations, the driving force of life which we believed to have created us as supreme organisms on this planet, comes with a higher risk of death for more complex organisms. In other words, unicellular organisms, being nearly unable to die from cancer, are truly the fittest. We’re not. How can a complex organism consider itself the fittest, when it fears the very driving force of life as cancer?”

His voice softened. “We were never meant to be. We were lucky to have existed in history.” The doctor looked down beneath his feet. “Look down. What you are witnessing here is survival of the fittest. The Garden which you despise is a diverse ecosystem of different cells, always mutating and evolving. Sometimes the single-cells join together and survive together; you may think of them of colonies, like spore colonies, but what we have here is more like an entire encyclopaedia collection of colonies. A galactic variety of cells are always being born – and dying as we speak. They are constantly evolving, mutating, all as single-celled organisms, fueled by the need to survive and the incessant radiation near the edge of our world. You will never, ever, take all of them down."



IX

Alice stood with her mouth open as she then watched the doctor strip. With the blonde. They laid down naked, lovingly, and stretched their bodies against the white mass enveloping their flesh.

“You are not going to do it right in front of me are you?” the detective asked.

The doctor raised up his head to get a better view of the detective. “Alice, it is the only way to prove to you that you and your puppy have led humanity to new heights. You should be glad. I’ve been waiting for years, really, years just to be able to tell you the good news. That the Garden, or, your puppy, is truly beautiful. And that humanity will thrive with it. I’ve always thought about the angry little girl in the hospital bed. Thought about why something so bad could happen to her, and if good could come out of it. Witness now, the good, the procreation of a new humanity.” The man answered.

“What is that on your shoulder?” Alice asked.

The doctor was still smiling. “What?”

“Oh my gosh,” Alice raised her voice. “Oh my gosh that –”

The doctor stopped smiling. “What is on my shoulder?”

The blonde screamed. “Oh what the, no! NO, just NO!”

“Fuck it,” the doctor said as he started feeling up the tumor with his thumb. “Fuck. This be my fate.”



X

The clouds were dark and it was raining.

The blonde and Alice held each other side by side. The blonde was crying.

And Alice too.

The doctor was calm. “I could excise this. Don’t cry girls. Remember, I am a surgeon after all.” He smiled again. “But I will not. I am not Adam.”

He stood up straight and tall, completely naked, and held his arms out.

He was beautiful. Every muscle and bone sculpted to the finest detail.

“I hope they don’t mind some silicone.” And he fell back. Resting, sleeping in the Garden, letting it crawl. All over him.



XI

In the dark of the rainclouds, a voice was low and calm.

“Tell my mother I love her, and that I am doing well. Tell her I killed the doctor who kidnapped me, and therefore I cannot return to society. Tell her I live peacefully, and that I am not living in fear in the wilderness. Tell her I smile every day and think about her.”

The blonde held Alice’s face close to hers. “Promise me, Alice. Please. Say this to my mother. And only this. Let me stay here.”

Alice looked into the blonde girl’s eyes and did not say a word.

Alice stood up, and headed back towards the city.


Love, Finale.


XII

Across the field, there was a voice yelling – as if a little girl had just lost something very important to her. Something like a pet puppy.

“I’m telling you. Don’t. Ever. Harm a man or I will have to kill you. Find him. Find Adam. Find love. Live well, and never ever kill yourself. Never even think about it. I hope you fulfill your dream. And…if you ever find out you’re not the one….your mother is waiting for you. We have doctors. We are able to help you and we are happy to help you. The city is always here. And it thanks you. For carrying on, Helon.”


Life Goes On


“Don’t worry. There is no way I would kill you.” Ea says calmly to Two. Two is bleeding from his mouth.
“What I have here are the court proceedings, and the forensic report of what’s been done to Nieve before she passed away. I’m her sister by the way.”
She sees the expression change slowly on the man. Even with the sedative and alcohol and recent trauma to his face, the realization changes his being.
“I have all the time in my life, until I get caught. But here’s the deal – I’ve hired someone to stage your guilt-suicide. And I have all the blood and body samples to harvest from you to make it realistic. You and I both know the idiocy of the police force. They never caught you. I did.

Now, with all that time, I will carry out what you did to Nieve, one by one. It’s only fair, isn’t it?”
The man screamed. “Why me? Why me? It wasn’t me, I wasn’t the one with the idea.”
Xetna feigns surprise. She relaxes her stance, and appears confused.
“I talked to your other two friends. They told me that you were the one who kidnapped Nieve and came up with all the ideas.”
The man begins a long ramble. Whether his words were true or not, it did not matter to Xetna – as the man frantically recalls details of how the other two men initiated horrific crimes against her sister, Xetna is listening, but not listening.
She starts sobbing.
“I’m so sorry. Can you forgive me?” Suddenly she looked up with eyes of an animal.
“They lied to me. They lied to me and said it was you. They almost made me kill you. Why would they lie to me like that, and do this to you?”
The man is at loss for words, but the thought of potentially having saved himself brings a short moment of peace to his head.
“What they did to Nieve. Do you agree with all that crap?” Xetna asks.
“No. It was all them. It was really bad towards the end. I said they should just kill her or leave her alone, but they didn’t listen.” The man speaks loud and clear, despite the pain from his oral wounds.
“Hey.” Ea speaks softly. “Can you help me? Can you help Nieve.” She leans closer to Two. “Give those men what they deserve.”
The man agrees.

***********************************

She led the man, still handcuffed, into Three’s cage first. She supplied him with all the tools he could every think of – pliers, matchsticks, lighter fluid, a hammer, an electric drill….the options were almost endless.
“I handcuff you for a reason,” Ea says. “Punish him, but don’t kill him, please. I never meant to kill any of you. If you kill him, I will have no choice but to take you down as well. I did not kidnap you to be caught for murder. That said, do whatever you want.”

************************************

Swollen body parts, blood, pus, semen, it was all an amorphous mess. Later that evening, Xetna hoses down three with warm water. And starts treating his wounds as best as she could. The man lays semi-conscious, and unable to speak coherently.
In the meantime, she had set Two free to reign in One’s cage. As One screamed and howled, Three seems to cower in One’s pain. Or was it just that she was still not gentle enough in treating the wounds?

*************************************

That morning, Xetna visits One’s cage. Two, tired from forcefully torturing his kind, is resting in the corner. She drags Two back into his cage.
One was missing an eye. She asks One what happened. Two had picked it out with a lit match – it took multiple lit matches to finally accomplish the task. Two then forced One to eat it while Two repeatedly rammed a metal rod down his throat

Nursing them makes me want to stop all this madness. But doing it also relieves some of my guilt for doing this to them. Even though I did not perform any of the torture myself, creating this environment for these men to be who they really are….it made me ashamed of myself. But it is exactly because they are capable of such things that I am here to carry this plan through. The more disfigurement and agony I see, the more determined I become: I will make it last.


*************************************

Later that evening, Xetna visits Two's cage. She gives him food. Good food with protein. She asks him if he punished them well. If he punished them like a man. If he punished them enough that they would have it worse than Nieve. Two, while enjoying being spoon-fed his meal, temporarily forgets that he is a man handcuffed to a cage, and proudly recounts scenes of punishment. Xetna shows interest in everything he says. She pretends to flinch at some of the things he's done. That makes Two somewhat pleased.
At the end of the meal, Xetna leans forward to give Two a kiss on the cheek. “I knew you were the only real man out of all of you.”

************************************

The next evening, Xetna returns to Two in his cage, and brings Three in to exact revenge.
Xetna provides the exact same tools. She tells Three the same thing: take all the revenge he needs, but do not kill Two.
The horror on Two’s face when he saw Three handling the tools almost makes Xetna feel guilt. “Why? Why?” He cannot stop asking. He is screaming and squirming on the floor to get away. He does not understand why after pleasing Xetna, he is now to be victimized.
Three starts with the lighter fluid.

*************************************

Two and a half weeks pass. Three men are set on each other in turns. Xetna shakes her head in despair: she had predicted this, but it was another thing to see it.
The men do not stop. Each time they are set free in a cage, they might start slow and lethargic, but eventually, full-blown torture can be heard through the walls. And each time, the torture is above and beyond what has been done to them previously.
The wounds are getting increasingly hard to treat. Xetna needs to give them more time in between their sessions to recover. She spoon-feeds each and every one of them daily. She always dresses herself in white cotton. After that first day, she never spoke; she was simply always there to provide comfort, food, water, and a non-terrifying presence in their lives. They take a liking to her. A real one.

They could refuse. They could stop if they wanted to. They could embrace each other when they get into that cage. They could become friends again. They could plot against me together; like they did to Nieve. But it seems that their ever-increasing thirst for revenge is stronger than the cage that holds them. All the shame and pain they suffered when they are there naked, lying in their own blood and stool does not take away from their human desires; it fuels them to be stronger men when they get the chance to avenge themselves.
That strength is never dying. It is stronger than my love for Nieve. I want to give up – as much as I want to avenge Nieve, I think it has been enough. Nieve died after 44 days. These men might take 440 torture-days before the first one of them dies. Perhaps, even longer. But I will be here with them to the end. I owe it to Nieve.
And I owe it to them.



The End of An Era


It is 2 am, and a little over a month since the torture has begun in Xetna’s apartment. She sleeps with expensive headphones. The renovated sound-proof walls do not help sometimes.
Tonight, she wakes up in tears. She sobs and looks out the window.
She gets up. In her pajamas, she leaves her suite and gets inside the elevator. 216, she enters on the elevator panel. To the very top of her building.

**********************

The night sky is dark. There is a light drizzle of rain. She turns her sight from the sky to the city below her.
She climbs up, and jumps.

**********************

Xetna almost screams, but before she has a chance to let all of the fear and frustration out of her lungs, she feels the touch of another human being holding her up. She looks up.
The boy is looking straight at her. On his back, he is wearing some sort of cord fixture. He uses the cords to draw her up. She looks down – however minimal, the city below gets further away from her with every pull of the cord.

********************

The boy does not speak. Xetna collapses onto the ground; the boy holds her. She is crying. The boy wipes her tears away, but it is no use in the rain.
“I am tired. This time, I want it to really end.” Xetna whispers to the boy.
“It is ending tonight. It will, I promise.”
“I wish you and I were the only people in this world.” She looks up at the boy. “Can you hold me?”
The boy leans back and lets Xetna rest her head on his chest. Xetna is shriveled up against him. The boy looks straight ahead, as if waiting for something to happen. But he, too, takes his moment to rest and closes his watchful eyes.
A man and a woman are on top of a building, drenched in the rain.

***********************


The Watching


The boy falls asleep.
Xetna withdraws the needle she had in her hand. And drags the body into the elevator, and back down to her suite.

****************************************

The boy slowly regains consciousness. Xetna is standing on top of him. He is on the floor. He realizes his hands were not just held up, but chained to a cage. He is completely naked.
“Ea, stop. It's done. It's all finished. I’m here to take you to Nieve. She’s alive. Please, what do you think you're doing?”
Xetna’s eyes look like she is calculating. But her attitude does not waver. She stands in domination.
“Let her come here.”

“Ea, what is this? What are you trying to do? Nieve is alive!”
“I’ve let you go once. At the gallery. It is clear you have something to do with the disappearance. I’ve thought about your words, boy. Long and hard. All about your Zeata. I knew too little about you to control your actions. You’ve lost everything when you lost your father – there was not much for me to work with to lure you in. But I know that you, or whoever you are working for, have an investment in me. I don’t know how many hours you’ve spent monitoring me, or how many sophisticated cameras you have set up in my house. I don’t know how you do it, I don’t care. Today, you give me Nieve, or you join the three. If Nieve is truly dead, or you don’t have Nieve, I’ve run out of all my leads on why she disappeared when you set up a meeting with me. And you know what, that pisses me off. And that means I won’t be satisfied with just some sort of explanation. Return Nieve to me alive. Or, you’ve seen what happens in my house through your cameras. I’ve stripped you down. Try calling the police naked.”
The boy hyperventilates. Xetna knows that she’s broken through the boy’s Zeata – he clearly has not been in a situation as such before.
She leaves the cage. The boy quickly surveys his surroundings for anything he could work with.

*************************************

Xetna returns with Three.
“He’s angry. I’ve told him the truth, that you’re the one who put Nieve in their path.”
The boy moves back into the wall with his bare legs scrambling against the tiles.
“30 seconds. Tell me what happened to Nieve.”
Three is growling under his heavy breathing.
Xetna waits, as the boy tries his best to formulate a solution.

*************************************

A loud bang disrupts the three. Xetna quickly turns her head; there are footsteps in her suite. Amidst the darkness of the night, a figure veiled in white appears in front of them in the cage.
It is the first time in a long time that Ea has felt anything. It was terror. She has not had feelings for so long. All the calculations in her mind had turned out to be true; she has been a functioning computer. And this unexpected figure standing in front of her, as the element of surprise, would force her to become human again.
Before she has the chance to act, the figure starts to murmur. A low feminine voice. She almost believes it is Nieve.
In the darkness of the cage, a flash of blue lightning takes over everyone’s field of vision.
Three screams loudly. He falls to the ground. There is a smell of something burning.
Ea’s eye catches the rain outdoor. It is still a light drizzle; there is no thunder.
In her confusion, she does not see anything anymore.


Bolt from the Blue,
or "Revealing Jupiter"


Xetna wakes up in her bed, with soft sunlight on her skin. She dashes to the cage that the boy was handcuffed to.
It is empty.
She quickly checks the rest of the cages. One, Two, and Three are in their own cages, as if nothing happened.
She looks at Three. His face is markedly black, hair dry. She leans closer to take a whiff. The burnt smell reminds her of what happened last night.

*******************************

The day is shining in a warm golden glow. She looks at the greenery on her balcony, bathed in clarity.
In her mind, for the first time in a long time, she is not calculating. She wonders if she passed out last night, and whether passing out has impacted her mental processing abilities. She prays to herself that it would not be permanent, and dresses to leave her suite.
All that is on her mind is a cup of coffee, with extra milk. So much milk that she would call it coffee-flavored milk.
She remembers once calling it that.

********************************

She takes the elevator to the 74th floor shopping center, and turns a sharp corner to enter the largest coffee shop in her building.
There, amidst all the orderly furnishings in shades of warm brown and white, Nieve sits in a wheelchair by the window. The boy sits across from Nieve. He is visibly shaken, paler than he was last night. Yet he is drinking coffee, too – holding a cup delicately with hands clad in clean, white gloves.
Xetna slowly approaches them. It is Nieve. After fighting her hallucinations of finding Nieve, Xetna has only grown more familiar of what Nieve’s face actually looks like. There is a large black spot on the bottom left side of her cheek, but otherwise, there she is. Unharmed. Her sister is unharmed.
Xetna sits down. Nieve’s eyes start to flood. Tears are streaming.
The boy does not look at Xetna. He is occupied with his coffee.
Nieve starts to speak, strange words that Xetna cannot understand. Nieve does not even look at Xetna.
It is the low murmur from last night. Suddenly, the coffee shop flashes as if someone has taken a picture with flash on.
Then the sound of rolling thunder, and a second, third flash. Nieve does not stop murmuring. The sky outside, though sunny, is thunderous to no end. Blue bolts of lightning serve as the background to Nieve, looking down, almost eyes closed, murmuring in a language that Xetna has never heard Nieve speak in their lives.

“Ea.”
It was Nieve's voice. But Nieve's lips were still moving to that low murmur; still looking down, with her eyebrows tight. The lightning outside does not stop.
“Ea, it’s me, can you hear me?” Nieve’s voice was in the air. Coming from seemingly nowhere, but Xetna did not care about analysis at this point in her life.


Synopsis: Ea/Xetna

Ea visits Helon who lives with her mother. Helon claims she does not know anything about where Nieve is, and tells Ea that her kidnapper, who has taken her into the wilderness of cancer-cell masses which surround their world, is already dead.

Meanwhile, Ea receives an unexpected call from Mar about the concept of a “zeata”, the unique set of laws which governs and predicts all the behaviours of an individual. He asks Ea to consider the zeata of the potential kidnappers of Nieve.

Ea dresses up as Nieve in a desperate attempt, wandering the towers looking for hope. Almost too soon, she encounters three men who appear shocked to see her, and mention something about having hidden Nieve’s body already. Ea lures these men to her apartment, and manage to hold them in her place until the police arrive.

In court, Ea learns of one of the worst kidnapping crimes committed in human history – the one committed against her sister.

She drops the case, stating she cannot handle this truth. She changes her name, appearance, and career. As the last surviving member of her family, she uses all her parent’s money to renovate her apartment into a vet clinic with cages for animals.

Using on-line forums, she posts ads for perverse sexual encounters. After another while, she manages to locate the three men on-line, and, locking onto them as her targets, she lures them into her apartment once again.

With veterinarian –use sedatives, she locks the men in her cages. She starts to exact her revenge, but is interrupted with a call right before she almost kills one of them. Mar calls Ea asking her not to kills them, but she hangs up.

********************************

Instead of exacting revenge on the men herself, she sets them upon one another. Sedated and chained in their cages, the men blame each other for the mastermind behind kidnapping and murdering Nieve. Ea uses their mentality to her advantage, unleashing one man with tools of torture on another chained-up man – in a cyclical pattern. Ea comes in to nurse the victim back to health after each torment session, ensuring her safety and her goddess-like status among the men. Seeing how it has become an endless cycle of revenge between the three men, she laments that they may never choose to forgive and break out of their vengeful torture.

Witnessing the constant torture in her own apartment drains Ea, and one day she heads to the top of her tower and jumps off.

She does not fall to her death, but is instead held up by someone she knows: Mar. Ea explains to Mar that she is tired of everything. Mar assures Ea that it will all come to an end soon. They embrace each other on a rainy rooftop. Mar falls asleep in Ea’s embrace. From Mar’s body, Ea withdraws the needle that she’s been hiding the whole time.

Mar wakes up naked in one of Ea’s cages. Ea explains to Mar that she has used Mar’s zeata to capture Mar at last. Ea says the only thing that she knows about Mar’s zeata is that Mar has an investment in herself, and that she committed suicide in a wager to capture Mar. Ea demands that Mar return Nieve to her, and if Nieve is dead, she will let Mar join the cycle of revenge with the three men. Mar panics. Before Ea could progress further, a figure breaks into her apartment. Ea only remembers seeing lightning in her unit before passing out.

Ea wakes up to a bright shiny morning. The only thing on her mind is to go to a café Nieve used to love. Ea travels there, to find Nieve sitting with Mar waiting for her.


↘ [Continue]

Bolt II


Xetna’s eyes flood with the same streaming tears.

“Ea, I am alive. I lied to you. It is not my first time lying to you. The beginning of it all was five years ago – that time when I left home for over three months. When I came back I told you I married and divorced someone in another country. In reality I saw an old lady on the streets; she was speaking to me as I am speaking to you now – she did not speak as humans do. I followed. She led me to a land above our world, filled with unspeakable natural beauty, landscapes which were always accompanied by strange music seeming to rise from the scenery itself. And there were these beings, beings of titanic proportions. These beings did not speak to communicate, as I am communicating with you now. Yet when they spoke, terrible things happened. They created worlds.

Their realm was a pure land. Its healing unlocked what was written, but lost in human genetics – or so I was told. With my words I call on the lightning you see outside. Yet my power is only a millionth of what the beings in Realm were able to casually use.

I took this power, and returned to our world. For a new life. At first I only wanted to use this almost divine gift to start everything anew. But the temptation was too great – with my new powers, I could kill. I hunted down people who had hurt me before, and did what I thought they deserved. But when I researched their lives in the process of hunting them down, I realize they are also victims as well - and that the hurt they brought onto me was commonly the result of misdirected revenge of some other suffering they had experienced in their lives.

Like you, I dug to the roots. I found the men who hurt me, and the men who hurt those men. Slowly I found myself deep within large, organized crime circles. I was a girl playing with the big boys. With what I was given in my visit to Realm, it was easy. I was at the height of my powers when I first returned to our world. What happened to Three yesterday has happened to many other men. Thousands of them.

I did not exterminate these establishments, but took control over them. I used them as resources and leverage to take down other criminal circles. It did not take long. With the mental prowess I gained through Realm's healing, I found myself sitting on top of all the world’s crime. I took over operations. I took over their wealth.

I was not content – I wanted to rule over more. The feeling of being justice – whatever that word means in this world, was too good to give up. Having taken care of complex and organized crime, I turned my attention to using the resources available to me to tackle sporadic and spontaneous crime – robberies, kidnappings, murders, rapes. It was not as easy as taking down organized crime, but I found a boy who helped me accomplish it. When I saved Marokso from suicide, he had little will to survive. He only had this fascination of reviving his father. We did it together, and very quickly, we had our system set up. We sent out wired men, some complete androids, to bait criminals into committing things they would have done to living human beings. I presented potential criminals convenient ways to satisfy their aggression and fantasies. I’ve created a world full of temptation, a world with easy prey.

We baited criminals, whom we turned into bait. The smart ones I kept as our agents, and to this day, I control them with drugs. I was proud of what I’ve accomplished; the crime you see on the newspapers these days are all assaults on our bait, wired beings who have minimal feelings. Even if they died fully, they were criminals who deserved it to begin with. I’ve used estrogen to turn them weak, even beautiful. Some of the severely assaulted ones kept their disabilities, and became even more easy bait. I run a world that offers no redemption for sins, as there is no life after being wired by me. All that awaits them is being victimized again and again.

I’d return home once in a while, and put on a show of being an incorrigible whore, which indeed I was in front of you. It was easy, as that’s what I was to you growing up. I did not want you to find out about any of my secret life; in fact, I didn’t want anyone to even suspect that you and I are related, in case something happened to you because of me. I would be nonchalant and rude and useless at home. Yet you would still love me. I must admit I tried to be my worst in front of you.

Because seeing you love me despite all that gave me a lot of strength to go on. Mom and Dad are gone. All I have is you.

I continued my aspirations. There are two other types of crime I cannot tackle easily. One is domestic – bait simply does not reach into the family domain. The other is governmental and corporate. I wanted to take down pharmaceuticals, banking, fuel, genetically-modified food, tobacco, water privatization, construction – I wanted them all. And that is when I found out that I was not the only one, nor was I the first human being to have returned from Realm. Others have come before me, and have taken control of our world in their own ways. I took this as a challenge. And just as I begin to embark on this new journey, Ea, I –“

The lightning stops outside. Nieve looks up at Ea, tears stopping.

Ea tilts her head closer to Nieve. Nieve mouth does not move. The thunder has come to an end.

Nieve’s voice rings again.

“I have cancer. Maybe it is what I deserve. In my process of eliminating suffering on earth I have come to see myself as queen. I believed I was invincible. And that’s when I realized there is something so simple and so common which I am helpless against. There is nothing I can do for a cancer patient. Including myself.

Ea, the pain and ugliness have been so strong that I put myself in cryo unless I absolutely have to be in this world. Marokso is working on a way to engineer me so that my brain can still function while my body is in cryo. But we know this is not a permanent solution. We need someone to take over what we have.

In the world that we set up, there are very few human beings. The first level is what Marokso calls Clay; people whom we can mold and use as we please. This accounts for almost 85% of our entire population. Then the Metals are those whose thoughts are harder to mold, but once shaped, they are more or less close to immutable. Those who are neither Clay nor Metal are Recruits: those capable of picking up our messages, exhibiting extreme mental functioning, and keeping our interest in them. Out of the Recruits, some are trained successfully or are born with the natural talent to become a Life.

A Life is someone who knows Zeata, uses Zeata, and understands Zeata as the summation of rules in all human interactions. The top Lives are Berserkers, those who are uncontrollable by others, due to the fact that they themselves are in full control of their own Zeatas. They use Zeata so well that they can control almost every action of the other person with not force, but simply information and circumstance. The best of the best can even control entire populations of Clay and Metal. You are a born Berserker, Ea. You are better than I am, like you always were.

But there is one major flaw in your Zeata, Ea. It is a fatal flaw: me. I was the one who called you here in your sleep. I asked for the coffee we used to have. And you came to me, even without full consciousness.

But Ea – we should be happy. Because I will be dead soon.

As you have suspected, Marokso's planted cameras all over our apartment suite to monitor what's been happening. Fast and ferocious, you accomplish whatever you set your mind to. And so I want to ask you.

Can you help me live on?

I did not want to throw you into this dark world, but as I face my death I have no choice. Ever since we were children, I’ve trusted you. So for my dreams, I betray you. Can you still love me for doing all this?”

Nieve is looking up straight at Ea. Ea shakes her head and speaks to her sister.


“Yes, yes Nieve. But I will never let you go. You cannot die yet – I just got you back.” Ea reaches her hand out to touch Nieve.

Marokso suddenly stands up, and interrupts Ea. “We have to leave.” He says. He pushes Nieve on her wheelchair, and grabs Ea by her wrist. He is strong. He leads them out of the building.

Ea sees Nieve pop a pill and dose off.

The boy starts speaking as they walk quickly through a busy crowd.


Bolt III


“Ea, follow closely. We have a predetermined route to take – no matter how roundabout it seems, don't hesitate – just walk. Look at everyone around us – 90% of them are our androids, the rest are people whom Nieve is familiar with in your building.

Nieve has never shown her powers as lightning – at least not to someone who lived to tell it. She has just spent most of her energy calling out that thunderstorm for the world to see for a reason. She knows there are other returnees from Realm, and that they are always watching for new returnees. Every new returnee from Realm throws our world off balance in some way.

Nieve is setting up a suspicious scenario to the other returnees. Ideally, they will believe that the thunderstorm is not from Nieve, but rather from an inexperienced returnee at the height of their powers – who is too green to understand that over the long-term, their power is best concealed. In other words, anyone joining this area who is not a droid will be sensed by our droids. After one semi-elaborate plan, you are quickly involved in another: we are fishing out the other returnees, and Nieve is doing this for a reason: as her replacement, you are not able to speak realities into being like Nieve could. This means, you are the weakest among all the returnees, hidden or not, who are playing their role in the world. And it is in your best interest for me and Nieve to work and find out as much as we can about the other existing returnees. If that plan fails and the other returnees do manage to zoom in on you and find out about who you are, they most likely would assume that the thunderstorm that Nieve just put on was from you. And that makes you a formidable opponent.

Follow this route, follow me close. We cannot afford to run into any recruits working for other returnees. I am analyzing signals from our androids as we speak.”

“Marokso,” Ea spoke up.

“Call me Mar.”

“Mar, can you forgive me? Can you forgive me for last night?”

The boy smiles. “Ea, can you forgive me? The scenario Nieve and I have set up has been tremendously painful for you to bear. Nieve understands this, but she believes that putting you through the greatest agony will allow you to reach your full potential at the fastest rate possible.

I can assure you, however, that the court proceedings....this was something that happened to a real girl. In other words, what you have experienced as a family member is something that has been experienced before. It is a reality in our world. One that Nieve is working so hard to change.”

“But that was not your decision. You only did it to help Nieve. On the other hand, Mar, what I did was terrible. It was to help myself.” Ea replied.

The boy takes a moment to look back at Ea and smile.

“Ea. I know, just like how Nieve and I were watching over you, you were watching over me last night to ensure that Three would not do anything to me that was beyond what was necessary.”

Ea's eyes start to tear a second time.

After a moment of silence, Ea speaks up again. “Mar, what did the other returnees do? Why are we fighting them? Why are we running from them?”

“The better question is what did they not do? Nieve told me that when she realized there were other returnees, she was excited by the prospect of doing greater things through alliances. However, she quickly realized that the fact that the issue of crime has been left up to her means that none of the previous returnees had taken action on addressing this source of pain and suffering in our world. Her excitement quickly turned to hatred, and her eagerness to reach out became another reserved and calculative scheme.

Truth be told we don't know who these people are. We don't even know how many there are in total, but we know there are at least two, both owning tremendous assets.

The mastermind behind the SEED project - which condensed our world into its state today – is a someone you know, Elronde Erti. People know about him as an award-winning designer and developer. After his involvement in urban planning and the construction industry, he has retired and now focuses his attention on being the head of a fairly well-known religious group. Of course, this is after SEED allowed him to control the entire energy industry. After the world was condensed, the price of fuel crashed so viciously that he was able to buy out the majority of the energy sector. Undoubtedly, he is still running these capitalistic operations. Whether that is known to his masses of followers residing in the Church he's built in Western District 15 is unknown. What we do know is that he keeps it no secret that the reality he has learned to speak from Realm allows him to manipulate human limbs. He is literally capable of making others worship him, and to this day his followers believe him to be of the supernatural.

It is interesting, however, that the Words of Realm cannot really override science – at least, that is what Nieve believes. For example, Nieve's Words of Realm actually allows her to control electrons. Lightning is one of the most ostentatious and basic uses of her word.

She is also capable of combining never-before-seen compounds by altering electron configuration of elements. She is capable of not really controlling machinery, but certainly disrupting machinery which rely on electricity. Similarly, she can look at someone's brain and force all the electrons to move in an unnatural way – for example, attempting to gather all electrons toward the back of the head. Sometimes this results in confusion; sometimes irreparable mental defect; other times, death. The brain is complicated, and she has not figured out exactly what to do with the electrons, aside from disrupting their existing paths – just like she does with machinery. Her less useful abilities include calling upon aurora or, microwaving my mid-night snack with her word. Mind you, this was in the early days. According to her, the heavily polluted and radioactive state of our world is slowly killing all the biological gains she's made – and her ability to use Words of Realm has been on constant decay.

All this is to say: the likelihood that human limb is the only thing Elronde knows how to manipulate is almost zero. He's hiding the full breadth of his powers, as a good returnee always does. At the same time, we don't know how far he has decayed in terms of his abilities.”

“Who is the second one?”

“We have never met the second one. But what I can tell you is, the 174 nations which survive to this day on earth has divided themselves into four primary military fractions. Being forced so close together by the SEED project and CTVT was a drastic game-changer to the world of national defense. It was logical to form allies. There have been no serious wars, as you know, but the military sector, as a business, always exists.

We have over 600,000 fully-functioning androids under our operation. At any time, over a third of them are contracted out to different militant groups – you know, as soldiers who look human, can be modified to withstand heavy damage, and be very cost-effective to keep compared to human beings – never mind the machine-like perfection in carrying out operations. Ea, here's the deal – this is one of our main sources of regular income. From today onward, you have all of Nieve's immense wealth. Let that sink in – and think about what you will do with it.

Back to the returnee. We know there are four major military fractions. A fifth one is slowly emerging, but it is far from being powerful enough to compete. We are involved with all five, naturally. And we know, throughout investigations and business-deals, that there is a single man who control all five military fractions from behind the scenes – or at least, has significant say in how they are run. We assume this individual is also a returnee, for the reason that Elronde has not been able to take this individual down even to this day. Similarly – neither has Nieve.”


Bolt IV


After seventeen separate train rides in different directions, the three of them arrive at a building only seven clusters away from home. Mar takes them up the elevator; amidst the crowd, he is whispering.

“We own levels 173 and above all the way to 310. You will notice that we are passing by indoor parks, mall space, and a renowned public pool. We thought it would be the best camouflage – to actually open up parts of our operation to the public.”

They get off at the 213th floor – it is a residential level. They enter a very clean apartment suite.

“Two bedroom suite. Cute right” Mar says to Ea.

Mar opens up a small storage closet. “This is where Nieve is hidden in cryo. Lower-mid tier apartment suite – and just the corner of one.”

With swift accuracy, he places Nieve to rest in the closet.

“Come on Ea. Let's go to the food court. All on me.” Mar takes off his gloves.

“Mar, what is it. CTVT?” Ea asks.

“Yes. It's a tough one to beat isn't it.”

***********************************

They take the elevator to a food-court on the 279th level. Ea is astonished by the highly sophisticated designs of the food stands.

“This is an expensive one! You can think of it as one gigantic tapas restaurant. Browse and take whatever you like. It's been a long time since we've been able to take our time with something as minor as lunch.”

Mar buys Ea a sandwich, of her choosing. She is not used to expensive food, let alone for lunch.

They find a seat. Mar is eating a very decorated roast beef dish with fresh-pressed grape juice.

Mar suddenly stops eating and takes out his credit card. “Guess what Ea? This has unlimited credit on all the floors we own. That's 2 major shopping centers and more than 130 nice restaurants. Take it.”

Ea slowly chews on her sandwich. She shakes her head and refuses.

“Mar. What do you do with all the money?”

“As of today I have 17 orphanages across the Districts, for children and adults with significant disabilities. That's my major expenditure.”

“For your father?” Ea asks.

“And myself.” Mar waves someone down, and order a second roast-beef dish in a different sauce. He is eating ferociously.

“What about the operation. Aside from trying to investigate the other returnees, what do we do?”

“You don't have to do anything, but Nieve expects much more from you. I can only tell you what I do. My major project right now is devising a way for Nieve to be able to mentally operate and communicate while she is in cryo. In a sense, it is the opposite of what I have been doing all along. My talent is in programming. What I do is I take a brain that is already partly killed, and supply it with code that allows it to carry out actions predetermined by me. Some are built for bait. Some for war. Regardless, what I am doing is coding their Zeatas.”


"Zeata", Continued



“As I mentioned to you before, Zeata is the summation of laws that governs a person’s reactions and actions. No one can disobey their Zeata – Zeata is their god. Everyone has a god which they obey 100%. When other people control your god, they control you. There are no exemptions – there are only those who think they are exempt. Because these people are actually, in a sense, even easier to control.” Mar says.

“That said, my current project is literally the opposite of what I've been doing. Instead of making a dead body come back to life with an artificial Zeata, I have to let a Zeata continue to survive in a body that is put in a state of death.

I taught Nieve programming. But she outperformed me in three hours. What would take a team of programmers to write in a year, Nieve was able to do it in a couple of days. This is why our operation expanded so rapidly – her brain, transformed by Realm, was able to compute at a rate of someone with high-level savant syndrome.

When Nieve eventually told me the story of Realm, I did not believe her. Or, I didn't have to believe her, because whether the story was true or not did not make any difference. Yet when I saw her programming abilities surpass mine in a matter of hours, I knew, whatever it was, Realm exists.

I tried to encapsulate Realm with a chip. I set up a programming assignment for Nieve to complete over the course of seven 24-hour days. The way she would approach each programming challenge would be recorded, analyzed, and distilled into a chip. I would then willingly choose to become a semi-droid, by implanting that chip into myself. Guess what happened?”

“It didn't succeed?” Ea asked.

“You're right. The software was good, but the hardware couldn't run it. This was when I realized, like Nieve has claimed, there is a biological basis to all the miracles in Realm. Though the chip held immense amounts of strategy simply by copying Nieve's thought process, my brain could not run it.

The funny thing is, my father, having been labeled as an idiot for the majority of his life – and not an idiot savant either – actually surpassed me, too, in my mission to absorb Realm. Do you remember the painting that was used to set up our first meeting?”

Ea nods.

“The reason why my father was so obsessed with that painting never was explained to me. I just assumed it was part of his condition. After I met Nieve, I learned the truth of his constant repeating of the painting through his own way.

The painting is by a returnee from Realm. Now, she is one who actually does not exist in our world any more. We are not sure if she died, found a way to go back to Realm, or had her powers degenerate beyond repair – this is one of the mysteries we did not solve because in short, she has no impact on our world.

Back to the story, the painting is actually of a scene from Realm. Nieve, like my father, was obsessed with that painting.”

“How come?”

“She says that whenever she sees the painting, she is capable of hearing a segment of a melody from Realm. A melody which is capable of bringing back Realm’s healing to her body. Neither Nieve nor I could decide whether this was part of Nieve's synaesthesia, or whether the melody was literally encoded into the painting by the girl – whom her parents claim was also autistic, like my father.

Now here is the surprising thing. My father came to see the painting two years before his death. You’ve met my father. What you saw on the bus was pretty accurate – except for one detail. Five months after seeing and reciting the painting in his own way, my father was able to walk. It wasn't like he was born with a limp or anything – it was simply being overweight and chronically inactive. Nieve is certain that it is part of the healing from Realm.”

Mar stops to stare at Ea in the eye.

“Ea, do you comprehend what I am saying? What I am saying is that, an autistic girl that the world has deemed useless, traveled somewhere, and was able to encode through a visual image a song from that somewhere. And that song, when extracted by someone like my father through his synaesthesia, was capable of biologically restoring his mobility. This is not a miracle in the traditional sense – but it is the result of tremendous scientific or biological prowess of whatever Realm is. Or whoever lives at Realm.”

“The orphanages -” Ea is cut off.

“Nieve was right, you are quick. The quickest I've seen. I am running the orphanages, not only to take care of people with disabilities in memory of my father - whom I cannot take care of any more – but also to conduct an experiment. I am expecting a person with synaeasthesia at least comparable to what my father possessed, and show me two things. Firstly, just how powerful is a melody from Realm in terms of healing – could one of the orphans eventually develop powers comparable to what Nieve and Elronde possesses, through biological restoration? And two, I want to record and analyze exactly how that synaesthesia works – if it is something that can be artificially induced through my programming of the brain, I can use the painting and induced synaesthesia to possibly heal Nieve. Not only that.” Mar pauses to smile.

“I would also like to see what I can gain from Realm.”

“But what you would have unlocked is one single visual scene from Realm...the experience of actually being there....” Ea whispers, mostly to herself.

“This is why all returnees are interested in new returnees. Not only will new returnees potentially return with new information about Realm – but ultimately, they would want to know how we can access Realm from our world, without the old lady. We have a large number of androids roaming the world aimlessly – waiting to be picked up by the old lady, or, anyone who is capable of speaking-without-speaking.

At the same time, Ea. We are in complete defense mode. We expect other returnees and their agents to be investigating the thunderstorm. If any agents working for the other returnees engage in close-ranged investigation, we may be able to track down these agents and possibly gain more information on the other two returnees. Similarly, a real recruit or agent would realize that there was an unusually high density of androids in the area – which means that Nieve was dominating the scene at the time. In the worst case scenario to them, Nieve has been able to connect with a new returnee, or maybe even predict the exact location of where to expect a new returnee. In short: Nieve is bluffing.

We are staying in this building for a long while – to sit and watch how the world changes. What I do know is that people will be going after Nieve. Thankfully, no one would have known that she is now a cancer patient in cryo. Her current condition makes this very risky move a reasonable one to take, as literally, no one will find her. Yet, she is clearing a path for you.”

Ea stops Mar. “What will happen to the three men at my apartment?”


Bolt, Finale.


“Very good question. As you may have suspected, they are past criminals whom we wired with the memory of raping and torturing an actual, young victim. I cannot let this perfect experiment you have set up go to waste – I've assigned a droid to deliver all the food they can possibly eat daily and clean up all the waste They have everything they need to survive – they don't need to worry about their next meal, ever. And, they have their friends with them in this new, care-free life. The question now is – will they let it become their heaven? Or will they make it their own living hell? What do you think Ea?”

Ea only looks down.

“I've put them all into the same cage. I am expecting to clear out not wasted food, but wasted bodies very soon.
In the meantime, Ea, we are in a very similar situation. The top half of this tower has everything you could ever imagine. Food, entertainment, sex with different types of men and women – mind you, all of them are wired by me, and most of them aren’t even alive. But the options, clearly, are endless. And they are very good at what they do.”
Mar stops to take a sip of his grape juice.
“Aside from one thing Ea. There is one thing I've never had compared to the men in your apartment.”

Ea looks at Mar.
“I never had more than one friend aside from Nieve.” Mar laughs at himself. “I could not hold it in, I've talked non-stop. I know you are quick to absorb, but I guess part of it is me wanting someone to understand what is going on. Someone who understands who I am. Who I've become.” Mar pauses again.


“Ea, I enjoy your company.”


K’tai II

I had a vision. It was a nasty vision that left a tangible scent, that of blood and waste. There was some sort of a glass container with a metal lid, all turned upside down. And in it I saw over thousands upon thousands of animal foetuses, skin discoloured with the green liquid. It was shocking when I realized they were all alive, mouth voicing noises, sucking on whatever liquid or flesh came their way as they lacked any ability to move in their crammed positions. Their limbs and skulls were deformed to fit the shape of the container, and the collective squeals with all their mouths moving at the same time gave me the shock I needed to finally wake up.


[appendix 1] S.E.E.D. Project
or "Voice of Neptune"

The Challenge: Why Rethink Our Cities? Policy paper by E. Elronde

Within the edges of our world, our current built environment is characterized by sprawl: low-density, single-houses consuming significant land areas – and depending heavily on cars and expansive road networks for transport. Sprawl is linked to an extensive, intricate web of issues; which of these concerns you, your family, or your organization?

Jobs, Economy, Poverty

Climate Change: emissions from car-dependency exacerbate climate-change, a cause of economic loss in terms of 1) damage of public infrastructure through increased flooding and extreme weather events; 2) disruption of resource-based economies like forestry; and 3) exacerbation of air pollution and associated health costs. Losses have been estimated at millions, even billions per year for each item above.
Taxation & Municipal Finances: low-density designs extend travel distances and increase land-use, lead to higher municipal-service and infrastructure costs in relation to: electric gridline, water pipeline, garbage collection service, road construction, road maintenance, police service, fire service, and school board service costs.
Health: evidence links sprawl to a wide variety of health problems, including motor-vehicle accidents, obesity, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, and certain forms of cancer. These incidents contribute to reduction of labour force at the population level and sick leaves at the individual level – two important factors contributing to reduced productivity and economic loss.
Access: sprawl extends travel distance, time, and cost to work and education (training), limiting positions and opportunities available. Seniors, individuals living with disabilities, and those already in poverty are most significantly impacted compared to those with existing financial stability, leading to a downward spiral of population-level poverty. Increased travel distance, time, and cost to work have been linked to higher population-level unemployment and income inequality.

Health & Health Care Costs (including Food and Water Security)

Car-dependency: evidence links sprawl to the following factors (and their associated illnesses in parentheses): air pollution (heart diseases, stroke, lung cancer, lung diseases, all-cause mortality); physical inactivity (obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, certain forms of cancer); and motor-vehicle accidents (a leading cause of death and disability in younger age groups).
Concrete coverage: sprawl relies on expansive road networks, resulting in conversion of significant green space to concrete. This can impact both food security (loss of farmland) and water security (as concrete coverage leads to water run-off and reduces groundwater recharge rates).
Climate change: car-dependency contributes to GHG emissions, which in turn impacts health through: increased urban heat-strokes; weather-related disasters as large-scale causes of physical injury, mental trauma and stress; infectious disease resurgence (including previously-eradicated tropical diseases); water contamination (through increased algae blooms); food insecurity (changing arable land patterns, including desertification of productive regions); and increased population-level UV light exposure (cause of skin-cancer, cataracts, and low-immune function).
Access to health care: low-density built environments, along with rising fuel prices increase travel distance, cost, and time experienced by individuals and families in seeking care; increased travel distance, cost and time are linked to a variety of health inequities, including: late diagnosis; diagnosis after death; incomplete treatment; higher risk of hospitalization for avoidable issue; higher risk of dying at hospital; incomplete treatment; lower satisfaction with care; poor prognosis/lower survival rates.
Overall, the combined health impacts of these constitute a systematic assault on population health through the social determinants of health.

Disability, Seniors Issues, and Poverty Reduction

Travel risks: a car-dependent urban form can pose barriers for those who are “car-poor”, or, physically unable to operate a vehicle. Specifically, seniors and persons living with disability can experience limited mobility in midst of weather-related risks, traffic, and crime. Low-density, vast urban landscapes can also create challenges in way-finding, which can pose significant risk to seniors living with dementia, or individuals living with a cognitive disability.
Poverty: over 36.7% of all poverty is in a household with a disability. A sprawling built environment does not readily support disability-related poverty reduction, as high-levels of travel cost, risk, distance, and time impact access to services, training, volunteering, community involvement, and employment. Furthermore, comprehensive installation of universal design features can be financially and logistically challenging in sprawling suburban communities with low population-densities (when compared to a city-centre).

Housing Prices, Affordability, and “Suburban Slums”

Increasing transportation costs can slowly drive suburban residents to relocate in accessible, convenient, city-centre areas. This will 1) increase demand for housing, and cost of housing in desirable city-centre locations; 2) encourage businesses to co-migrate to these areas with their market; and 3) reduce population-density of suburban communities, potentially leading to reduced tax-base for essential municipal services. In short, rising fuel prices may expand migration issues associated with declining rural areas to include suburban areas – creating sparsely-populated communities with inadequate services. While housing prices will fall in these neighbourhoods, transportation costs may deem these areas financially-unsustainable and inhabitable. In extreme cases, entire suburban developments have been abandoned – leading to vacant buildings salvaged for usable parts. Conversely, in existing accessible city-centre areas, transportation prices will be kept affordable – while housing prices can skyrocket in midst of population growth.


“Zeata”, III

After lunch, Ea follows Mar for a walk around the building. There are gigantic indoor parks filled with sunlit greenery and laughter of children; there are dark rooms optimally-fitted with thousands of androids; there are fancy clothing stores where both the customers and the suit-clad sales reps were not fully human; and there are levels upon levels of fake residential units which serve to confuse any outsiders attempting to reach Nieve – the core of their operations.

“Mar, is there a phone I could use?” Ea asked.

Mar leads her to a public pay phone.

Ea makes a call. “I'm sorry, would Helon be at home?”

“Any news?” the voice on the other line responds coldly and swiftly.

“Helon, sorry to bother you. I just wanted to say thank you to you and your mother – we've found my sister.”

“Where did they find her?”

“I cannot really describe where...” Ea's voice falters.

“You don't sound happy about having her back.”

“Helon, she hasn't been gone for too long. But the doctors just told me she has cancer. She doesn't want me to tell anyone else, but I know that you also have experience being a cancer patient. I guess you're the only one in the world who would understand.”

“What type?”

“I cannot be sure, but it is on her skin.”

“Interesting.” Helon pauses.

So does Ea.

“Which hospital is she at?”

“I have her with me. It seems to be stable, and I want to take care of her myself. She is not even talking coherently”

“If the two of you don't mind, I can pay you a visit and see what I can do.”

“Do you think there's something we can do to help her?”

“I'll know when I see her.”

“Thank you so much, Helon. How can I thank you?”

“No promises.”

“Just one more thing, Helon. Nieve is in a medically-induced coma. Even when she was well, she wasn't really one to talk.”

“Neither am I.”

Ea and Helon arrange details to meet, with Mar trying to join the conversation with facial expressions on the side. They arrange to meet the next day. Helon hangs up.

“Do you know her well?” Mar asked.

“To be honest, not at all. I've met her and her mother once.”

“You know she can't see Nieve.”

“I understand. Can we get a droid to replace her?”

“You sure trust me. Not only will I have to modify a droid that remotely resembles Nieve, I've got to infect the droid with CTVT. All in a day's work. Wonderful.”

“I can help. I'll do whatever you want me to.”

“I want you to act reasonably. It is cute to be grateful to this Helon, but your first project as Nieve's replacement should not be something that can potentially expose everything we have to a stranger.”

“Partly, I did feel grateful – but also, did you know that Helon was kidnapped into the wild?”

Mar is silent.

“You told me that Elronde overtook the world's energy sector with the SEED project upon his return.”

“Well it was a no-brainer. Condensing the world into only 1.7% of the land that it used to build upon creates tremendous long-term savings in transportation alone. It's a pity people didn't think of it earlier.” Mar replies.

Ea continued. “What I do know is he worked on the SEED project in the non-profit and research sectors for over a decade until it took over the entire world. Originally he only wished to improve mobility for seniors and people with disabilities by creating miniature cities within a skyscraper. Sounds wonderful, but I was always curious about a few factors which contributed to SEED's success – firstly, there were a couple of major earthquakes which Elronde's prototype towers survived with minimal damage while the rest of the world's towers fell like dominoes.”

“You're right, the other buildings were definitely not as tall, and thus didn't think of utilizing high-standard seismic technology. We've deemed that a very human error – neither Nieve nor I can relate his known power of bending limbs to causing earthquakes. Fracking could be a reason, but investigation shows Elronde had no links to the energy sector at that time.”

“Which brings me to the second point – the other reason why the world quickly jumped onto the city-in-a-building concept was because of the spread of CTVT. Could that be related?”

“Well prior to that the world was already staying away from the edge of the world, and those who knew this were only utilizing some 71% of the land due to the lethal background radiation near the edge. CTVT started on a pet – we've looked into the owner and her home as well. No links to Elronde. As well, the home was on the outskirts of the world in the South Western District – it was only a matter of time before the background radiation there created CTVT.”

Ea stands silently.

“We've looked into it all.”

“Impressive. Nieve started these investigations?” Ea looks down on the floor.

“She's been on two excursions to the wilderness. That's how she accidentally caught the cancer. Sadly, it had to be a highly-aggressive type...excision didn't cure her completely.”

“I suppose that's why she is giving up. All these variables she has learned to control...cannot defy a single accidental variable that could take everything away from her.” Ea's voice was deep.

“She comes out of cryo monthly. We can reach her in states of emergency. In the meantime, you have my word – I am working full time on being able to have her communicate with us in cryo.”

Ea looks up at the boy. “Mar… why are you so nice to her?”

“I did try to commit suicide as the papers claim. She was the one who saved me. She didn't just save my life – she gave me a life worth living. If she'd just saved me and left me to live on my own, I would have repeated the attempt.” Mar's eyes seem to water. “And if I were to be saved by another recruit like Elronde or the warlord, who knows what kind of life I would be leading. But I am happy being with Nieve – I like her Zeata, which is also your Zeata. I like true vengeance.”




An Old Friend

The next day, Ea waves at Helon at their predetermined spot. She leads Helon up to one of the residential suites. Helon walks up to a body completely still in bed. She checks the wound on the wrist.

“Excision looks good. Where do they say is the metastasis?” Helon asks without looking at Ea.

“Lymphatic.” Ea says in a soft voice.

“Excellent. Optimal.” Helon quickly takes out a syringe and inserts it into the body's neck. She draws out fluids.

“Helon, how did you learn all this?” Ea appears shocked.

“When people die, you learn.”

She takes out a compact box, no larger than a phone from her handbag. She analyzes the liquid with it as if it were a microscope.

“Unfortunate. If it were another closely-related type, I could inject her with another strain of CTVT to attack it. But your sister has a rapidly progressing form that doesn't respond to much aside from radiation.”

Ea holds onto Helon's elbow. “Helon. Please tell me more. Anything would help.”

“This strain is even fairly good at withstanding radiation. Which means there's nothing you can do. Stay away from chemo no matter what the doctors say.”

Helon stands up swiftly to head for the door. Before she opens it, she turns around and bows at Ea.

“I am sorry. She has a couple of months.” Helon says.

“Helon, everything is so sudden. But thank you. I trust you more than any doctor.”


An Old Friend, II



Helon heads out. Without looking back, she says to Ea: “By the way. In case you didn't know already, you are not biologically related.”

******************************

Ea speaks to the empty room monitored by Mar.

“Mar. Did you see that?”

Mar spoke into Ea's earpiece. “Tell me, Ea, aside from photos of Nieve, what else have you shown her when you visited her mother?”

“Nothing. The only photo I showed her was actually of you, when I was hunting you down.”

“So. She was able to tell it’s not Nieve by analyzing the lymph sample?”

“What do you think are the odds...that she's a recruit for the other two Returnees?” Ea asks.

“There's not a lot of reason for her to be so sincere in helping you. Or at least appear to be.”

“You’re right…she even left the lymph sample. She took nothing.”

“We'll monitor her. She might come back for whatever she wanted, now that she knows where you live.”


Elronde’s Hack

The next morning, Ea is awakened by Mar. “We have to get going,” he says, handing her a tablet as she lay in her bed.

In the news, Elronde has made a public appearance stating that the thunderstorm in a clear blue sky was no simple incident, but rather a long-awaited sign of new human evolution according to their scriptures. He states that anyone who has witnessed the thunderstorm might have gained a new aura – and that he cordially invites these human beings transformed by the experience to meet at the Church of Flames over the next three days. During the three-day summit, he will select his new spiritual leaders from the attendees. The fine print further states that selected leaders are honored with an annual salary.

Hefty sum, Ea thinks to herself.

“All four major media outlets. Especially in the west.” Mar adds.

Ea looks at the photo. Elronde smiles. Always smiles.

“Extremely clever move. He will have drawn a bunch of idiots who believe a word he says, or a bunch of idiot con-artists who think they can fool Elronde. Within the mix would be agents and recruits from us or the other returnee – or any other hidden returnee, if there is one. Separating these from the clay would be far too easy for him. That's why I've also prepared 25 androids to join the meeting.”

“Why 25?” Ea asks.

“5 fully mechanical with only biological skins exterior. 5 mech cores with bio limbs. 5 mech limbs but bio cores. 5 fully bio but fully chipped. And 5 fully bio and semi-chipped. Let's see if he can tell with his powers.”

“You've been up all night haven't you.” Ea sits up and gets out of bed. “I want to go.”

Mar shakes his head. “I knew you would. But you do know that you are no match for Elronde if you were to go face to face, right?”

“Watch over me, Mar.” Ea starts to dress herself.

“Ea.” Mar puts his hand on Ea's shoulders. “If anything, keep your life. There's always a next time. Elronde's public, unlike the Warlord.”

“Mar, has any of our own ever infiltrated the churches?”

“As a follower, yes. But not long-term leader serving in Elronde’s churches. This is our chance.”

“I'm more interested in the agents. If, like you said, Elronde can capture a large number of agents working for the Warlord or any other hidden returnee, I'd like to meet them."


An Old Friend, III

Amidst a sizable garden, Elronde's three towers stand taller than the rest, shining in the bright blue sky. With seventeen hundred floors in total, the three towers are divided into five main churches and 189 minor churches. The building in the center holds the Church of Flames. Ea walks into the building, entering a majestic lobby filled with flamingoes. She lets a front-counter personnel know that she is responding to Elronde's invitation.

“Thank you. How should we address you?” The teenage clerk asks with a smile.

“Xetna Ossign.”

“How did you come to witness the event?”

“I live in the tower in the center of the storm.” Ea responds. She suddenly feels a gaze upon her back.

“I am responding to the invitation as well,” a familiar voice says behind her. Ea turns around.


It is Helon.

Caught off-guard, Ea begins to craft in her mind explanations why Helon knows her by a different name, and at a different address. But Helon acts as if she never knew Ea. Together, the two of them are led into the maze that is the church.

They are taken to the topmost level, where gigantic sapphire pillars surround an even larger bronze statue. The statue is of a feminine man, sitting in a robe. His chest is pierced open, revealing a glass heart. Within the glass heart is another bronze statue, standing, eyes closed.

Ea and Helon are led through a tour with four others, including a mother holding a very young child. Ea does not pay much attention to the mindless babble of their tour guide, but tries to memorize the layout of every floor they've been led through. She takes particular note of the windows and exits. She notices the main focal point of each floor – the statues – face different directions on all levels, making it confusing to orient oneself. The sun is the best tool; but some levels are completely closed off and candle-lit.

Mar has told her not to do anything risky. The 25 androids would be responsible for monitoring. Ea watches Helon occasionally – Helon is utterly silent.

Their guide leads them to a large meditation room, where close of people sit on the floor with ample space between them. They are left to join the meditation. The guide mentions that the meditation will last until 8pm, and that neither lunch nor dinner will be served. He points at the bathrooms and water fountains in the far corner of the room, away from the entrance. He leaves them, saying that he will come for them at the end of the day to lead them to their bedrooms – as the final conference will be held on the third day.

Ea sits close to Helon. Helon does not try to speak to her, nor make eye contact. Ea watches the people around her. The mother with the baby asks to leave to feed her young child. The church servants kindly agree, and lead her out. Half the room is looking at their phones; some pretending to respond to important messages or emails. A few have headphones leaking game music. Others sit eyes closed, humming, with different postures which may or may not be religious postures – but Ea does not know. These people should be the ones willing to put on a show for an annual salary, she thinks to herself.

There is nothing in the room but floor mats, people, and repetitive instrumental music. At any given moment, people are leaving and entering the bathroom. She does the same, taking slightly different routes to the bathroom in order to observe different people in the meditation room.

Some are clearly existing followers – or people who have done their research. They are dressed in their religious robes, hum along to the instrumental meditation music, and change postures with certainty right on specific beats of the melody.

Ea thinks about the days to come, and decides to spend the next few hours remembering all the faces of the people in the same meditation room. Knowing, that perhaps one of these faces would prove themselves to be noteworthy individuals like Helon and Mar.

The days and nights proceed with minimal food, and minimal excitement.


Parallels

In the evenings, Ea studies their religious text based on becoming the best self one can be. And worshipping an organic, evolving pantheon. “Find the divine in everything” is more or less the recurring theme. Amidst the positive thinking, there are disturbing passages about demons. Demons were defined as those who could speak without speaking, ones who traversed from beyond the edge of the world into the human realm. Capturing demons while they remain alive in our world was the greatest service one could offer to humanity – a service rewarded with a promise of the afterlife, surpassing the Great Circle, straight into the Cradle of Myths, where human beings will all be Gods with Elronde. Ea does not pay the scriptures much mind, for she already knew what Elronde’s plan is for someone like Nieve.


The Age of Elronde

The third day arrives – the entire tower is bustling with new noise, as all the invited ones who have been able to endure the days of forced meditation are gathered into one grand banquet hall. Food and wine from all over the world, in seemingly unlimited quantities are provided. Elronde, like a true leader, appears for a short speech only.

As the speech comes to a close, his custom smile disappears from his face. He reads out the names of a few individuals, and asks them to stand. Ea sits astounded.

One by one, she sees Mar’s android’s called out. All five fully mechanical droids are asked to leave the room. Then the five with mechanical cores and biological limbs. Then the 5 mechanical limbs but biological cores. These, and only these fifteen invitees were escorted out of the banquet hall.

Elronde resumes his smile, and allows the party to begin.

He retreats back to his own table, allowing the attendees to celebrate to their heart’s content. Amidst laughter and celebratory music, a number of people roam the tables to start small talk, assert their dominance, and build connections for the future.

Ea does not eat. She drinks clear juice.

Almost two hours pass; Ea is still eyeing everyone in the room. It is clear who is enjoying themselves, and those who are simply watching. She watches the watchers. As people start to walk around, Helon stands up and leaves the banquet hall. Ea silently follows.

Watching from afar, Mar commands one of the remaining ten droids to follow Ea.

***************

Helon takes the elevator to one of the higher levels. It is hard to follow her without making it apparent; the majority of the droids have been taken out. And Ea needs to know which floor to get off at.

So Ea rushes into the same elevator, and waves hello. Helon pretends not to see her.

Helon gets off at the church with the giant bronze statue, the one she stared at during their initial tour of the church. She stands motionless, seeming to fix her eyes on a single spot on the statue. Ea pretends to roam the floor with the other worshippers and visitors. On an empty stomach, the incense is starting to make her feel sick.


All of a sudden, the android turns to her and says in Mar’s quivering voice:

“Ea! Stay close to the windows. Stay on that level, don’t run. Please don’t run. Help is on the way, I have a helicopter out to fetch you.”

Mar’s voice fades, and is overtaken by yells and gasps from the crowd looking outside the window. Ea follows where their fingers point. A plane, up close, humongous and looming over the windows approaches the building. Within seconds, the building shakes from the inevitable collision; people are toppled over, and the fire alarms scream.

Ea stays calm with the orders she’s received from Mar. The single droid sent to watch over Ea stands by her side, waving to a distance outside the windows. Ea watches the crowds rush and gather at the emergency exit staircase. There is an unending flow of people already from the upper levels of the towers. As people fail to insert themselves into the crowd rushing down, shock quickly turns into despair. There is sobbing. There is smoke. Then comes the screams from within the staircase; Ea takes a step back.

What she has been worrying about has happened. She cannot see it, but from the broken screams coming from the staircase, she knows there is someone being trampled to their death. The screams slowly lose volume. Ea shakes. She looks at the droid standing still beside her. She wants to ask the droid to help, but does not know what can be done.

All of a sudden Ea falls; when the droid falls beside her, Ea realizes it was not her; the entire floor has collapsed and dropped over a meter. The screams from the crowd in the staircase turn into shrieks – Ea watches with eyes wide open, the taller men crouching down as the staircase above, possibly also filled with people, collapses on top of them. The concrete ceiling of the staircase is slowly pressing down, and as people rush to evacuate staircase, the concrete drops even further. Ea orders the droid to rush into the staircase and hold the collapsing concrete.

The droid is a woman in her forties, tall, with frizzy wheat hair and a long, pale face. Though her skin is visibly wrinkled and worn, the way she looks at Ea is almost silently elegant. Ea does not know what kind of crime the woman has committed to become an android; at that moment, she did not care. The woman in front of her is the only one who can help. Ea knows that perhaps she is only sending this android to become a meat pillar, possibly delaying the collapse by a few seconds. But regardless, she had to do something.

The android walks like a giant and joins the crowd in the staircase. With her height, she tries to lift up – but it is no use. She stands there, arms held up, looking at Ea straight without any expression.

Ea cries.

From far away, Mar detects that his command of the android has been overridden by Ea. He switches the view on his monitor to that of the android. He sees a teary-eyed Ea. He does not speak to her this time.

Ea looks at the android, silently obeying her commands. Yet the droid does not have enough intelligence built-in. Instead of lowering her arms to bear the pressure, Ea sees that the droids wrists are close to snapping as the hands contort from the immense pressure.

The staircase collapses a second time. Ea does not see anything but a burst of blood from the android’s wrists.

Mar watches through the android’s eyes. Staring at the android, Ea screams. Ea then chokes on the smoke; closes her eyes; and falls in front of the droid.

Mar overrides Ea’s command and orders the droid to run close to Ea. But before the android can move, he hears screams from the crowd. In a split moment, the screams are cut out. The android’s vision swings; it seems that the droid’s head has fallen off.

Then, complete darkness. Mar has lost control of the droid.

Mar grits his teeth. He presses a switch and screams at the microphone.

“Why! Why on earth haven’t you been able to reach the tower?”

The android on the other end of the line responds calmly – yet with the worst new possible to Mar.


The Age of Elronde, II

The helicopter, on its way to the tower, has been intercepted by a police aircraft and is currently being escorted back to where it came from. The droid on the other end of the line asks for instructions regarding where to lead the police.

Mar knows that pretending that the helicopter was sent from a military base clearly affiliated with the Warlord, their business partner, was the only logical choice. Yet even that was too risky. He curses at the helicopter droid instead and tells it to go wherever it wants. He leaves his desk and runs for the elevator, heading towards the ground floor.

Jumping onto a motorbike, Mar rushes towards the Church of Flames. He does not care about drawing the attention of everyone on the streets.

Upon arriving at Elronde’s Tower, Mar’s jaw drops. Through the crowd he sees police making arrests at ground-level. The five arrested are dramatically half-burnt; metal skeletons and mechanical parts showing through the flesh eaten by flames.

He notices that only a minority of the crowd is there to witness the ostentatious arrest. He runs around the tower to see the rest of the crowd: their heads towards the sky, in admiration and in awe, they stare at Elronde levitating in the air. Slowly, Elronde was descending from the great heights, his own head lowered, as if weeping over humanity.

A call interrupts Mar. On the other end of the line, a stern voice tells him that the military will be seeking compensation and making arrests, as Mar and Nieve have violated the military contract by also loaning out androids to whichever organization that is responsible for the attack on Elronde’s towers.

Typical panic response, Mar thinks to himself. The military, now relying heavily on Nieve’s androids, is in deep trouble as Elronde seeks to pin the attack on androids.

Mar knows that Nieve’s operation is in deeper trouble than the Warlord’s as 100% of their own operations are completed by androids.

In a calm voice, Mar responds to the call. “We have global monitoring over every single one of our androids. No droids were on the tourist aircraft that crashed into the building moments ago. If you wish to save your military operations, listen closely to every word I say and follow my commands immediately.”

Before the voice on the other end can shout, Mar continues.

“Order a troop of your droids to attack the tower immediately. Make it dramatic. Intercept them with another faction of the military. In ten minutes. You have ten minutes to show the world that the military is still on top of things by preventing the next android attack. Catch Elronde off guard.”

The man on the other end hangs up.

Mar stands alone in the crowd, staring blankly at the towers burning. Smoke rising. Which part of that smoke is Ea? Or perhaps, Ea, like Nieve, will reveal extraordinary powers and walk out of the flames unscathed.

No one comes out of the building. Mar heads back, walking slowly with his motorbike.


K’tai III

“Voices convinced me that I was alive. Life, however, was like nothing I ever had or seen before. It didn’t matter whether I was in an afterlife or still hallucinating. There were….things, yes, just things that could take my mind off of my state, and I think my parents would be happy to know that this is my new existence.


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Age of Elronde III

June 22nd, Elronde’s descent from the sky is seen by millions around the world through live broadcast. Claiming to have been saved by the gods, Elronde declares that his time on earth is not over: he condemns his enemies in hiding, and asserts that android technology has secretly been advancing. He calls for immediate action to be taken to identify all androids in our midst, in case they lead to the downfall of humanity.

Elronde prophesizes that the next possible attack will be on the site of the lightning phenomenon.

Donations flood into the churches of Elronde.

The day concludes with mass evacuations from Ea’s building. Mar order droids to recover the last remaining bodies of the three men from Ea’s suite.

June 23rd,

A real estate corporation purchases 14 buildings including Ea’s building, and donates the buildings to Elronde. Elronde moves the location of his destroyed Church of Flames into the central building – Ea’s building – and promises the rest of the world that he will serve as the guardian of the area, sacrificing himself in all future attacks.

Politicians around the world gather to condemn terrorism, and propose increased surveillance and military action for security. War is declared on the perpetrators of the attack.

Mar knows the Warlord is behind the call for increased security – and increased military power.

In response, Elronde immediately organizes a peace march, claiming that war is not the solution. Nearly four-hundred thousand around the world take to the streets against militarization.

The other returnee asserts power by ordering military police to randomly arrest protesters in over 40 countries.

June 24th

Elronde announces that he will donate two trillion dollars to the research of an android-identification system.  


CODEX II

[The Wild, I] “Ea, we’re alive”

“How…is this…” before Ea could finish her sentence, the familiar voice cut her off.

“Life gave us a second chance,” said Helon.

***************

Ea sat up. She was not in a hospital; her surroundings were definitely laboratory-like, yet it was decorated with picture frames and wool throws and what appeared to be children’s toys. “This is Elronde’s ploy?” She asked Helon.

“Who knows. What do you know about that man.” Helon asked.

Ea sat there and shook her head.

“Very few can come here. Even when here, very few can survive. You and I most likely passed out from the smoke, and when I woke up – we were out in the wilderness. Life would have us live…we were not too far from me and the doctor’s lab.”

“How do we get out?” Ea asked right away.

“As of right now, you can’t even get out of your bed Ea. Your legs are broken, five fractures in total. I don’t have my gear. This is a trek I cannot make.”

“How do we contact the city?”

“No service. The old cities are ghost towns out here.”

Ea shook. “How long do we have to live?”

***************

“This is the twenty-seventh day, Ea.” Helon smiled.

The tall blonde stood up and picked Ea out of bed. Ea thought she would feel pain, but it was worse: she could not feel anything at all. Helon was gentle, almost gentler than her mother whom Ea had met before. Helon whispered in Ea’s ears. “Let me show you something”.

There were no windows in the small room they were in, but there was a glass pane looking into another section. It was filled with greenery, edible greens that Ea recognized right away, all bathing in a soft light coming out of a hollowed out partition in a side wall.

Helon started. “This was doc’s secret project, lab, and observatory. I’ve built this a home, and later it became his grave. Before I caught the cancer, I survived here alone for a long time.”

“How can you grow food to keep two?” Ea asked.

“I don’t just eat from the garden.” Helon answered.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look around you.” Helon tilted her head at her work station, a computer surrounded by various instruments – but more importantly, colorful vials and tubs almost filled to the brim with fungal-looking globs. Ea had never seen them before; but she didn’t need to have seen them to know what they were: the cancer from the wild.

“You were subsisting on injections that I’ve collected and pulverized.” Helon said coldly.

***************

Ea froze. “Is this how you got the cancer?”

“No. If I wanted to kill you, I would have left you. If I wanted to experiment with you, I would not fix your legs. You simply don’t eat a cell destroyed by physical change, and have it rise from the dead on your skin as a tumor.”

Ea drew in a breath. “But, I need to get back. My sister is dying. And she doesn’t know I’m here.”

“Good,” Helon said. “No one should know we’re here. Elronde could come after us.”

“But –”

“You will get back, when time comes Ea. Trust me, I’ll help you. I’ve helped you this far.”

“Yes. Just one last thing. How long do you think it’ll take – will I be back before my sister dies?”

Helon looked at Ea. “Ea, your sister is not the only one dying.”

The fact that Helon was a cancer patient on remission, though holding her in a strong embrace, finally struck Ea again. Ea’s eyes widened. “Helon, leave me here. Make the trek without me. You need medical attention, and when you get back, tell my sister about me and save me.”

“Tell whom? Your unconscious sister? Or should we talk to the nations and governments which have let go of the wild years ago? Trust me Ea, the trek is more than I can take; I cannot haul water. One day without rain is my death. And after mine, it is yours. To ensure our survival, you must trust everything I tell you. Your sister needs you alive.”

Ea looked up at the ceiling, avoiding Helon’s face. She didn’t want to cry out of embarrassment or panic. She let out a quick response. “I understand now.”

There was a moment of silence. Ea wished Helon could put her down, but didn’t feel comfortable making further requests. After a while, Helon’s voice started to animate the room once again. “However, if you and I both stay here, we still might both die. You are recovering from a building explosion, and I am a cancer patient on remission recovering from the same. If you die, I can live. If I die, you’re dead in this wilderness. And that is the first possibility to rule out.”

She carried Ea through a door, and up a staircase. They eventually reach the top of the building; as Helon unlatched the opening, the sight of the blue sky excited and frightened Ea at the same time. Ea looked around at the wilderness under a vast clear sky, and they were absolutely surrounded by a flesh-like landscape.

“Ea. I will teach you how to survive in this garden.”


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Synopsis continued

Nieve murmurs in an unknown language while the blue sky outside begins to thunder. Meanwhile, she speaks to Ea through a type of telepathy.

Nieve explains her version of the story as the thunders rolled: she tells Ea that years ago, she met an old lady who spoke to her through telepathy. The old lady led her into “Realm”, a world above their own, one of majestic natural beauty and landscapes that emanated songs. The beings in that world spoke through telepathy, and when they used their actual speech, they were able to create physical realities.

Through what Nieve believes to be healing and recovery in living in that pure land, she found her ability to voice realities just like them – with her specific skill in manipulating electrons. With this near-divine ability to control electricity, she decided to return to her old world to start a new life – but could not resist the temptation to use her ability to exact revenge on the men who had hurt her. In the process, she quickly discovered that those men she hated were also victims at one point in their lives, and, with no limit to her divine skill, she exacted revenge on behalf of those men as well. On a rampage of revenge, she found herself deep within criminal circles, all of which eventually fell under her control. She rapidly expanded her crime-fighting operations with androids-as-victims which are designed by Mar. In the meantime, she distanced herself from Ea in an attempt to protect Ea from potential harm.

Revealing herself to be the titular character in the “Jupiter” Prologue, she explains that her recent investigation into the wilderness of cancer cells has resulted in her catching CTVT herself. With her imminent death and longstanding hibernation in cryogenesis, she devised a plan with Mar to train Ea as her replacement in the fastest way possible.

With Nieve in cryo, Mar explains to Ea that at least two others have returned from the world above as “Returnees”, holding similar powers to Nieve. One with the ability to bend human limbs with his word is a city-planner turned religious-leader, owning a massive number of towers in his assets as well as donations from a multitude of followers. The other one has never revealed the power of their Word, but controls the world’s warring military fractions as the mysterious “Patriarch”.

As the new leader of Nieve’s massive operation, Ea relocates to Nieve’s building and asks Mar what would happen to the three men in her apartment. Mar explains that they are half-androids planted with the memory of torturing an actual victim, and tells Ea that he will continue to run the social experiment Ea has set up. While Mar orders another droid to supply the three men’s physical needs, he predicts that the three men will choose to continue their cycle of torture until their deaths.

Ea contacts Helon as her first action as leader, in hopes of curing Nieve. Helon says the cancer is a strain that is unfortunately lethal, and shows remarkable prowess in biological sciences in knowing that the body Ea and Mar have shown her was not Nieve.

The next day, Elronde launches an invitation to lure masses of individuals who were in the vicinity of Nieve’s calling of thunder. Knowing that Ea will want to accept Elronde’s invitation, Mar prepares 25 androids to help Ea. Arriving at Elronde’s building as Xetna, Ea finds that Helon was also claiming to have seen the bolt from the bolt incident.

On the last day of Elronde’s “program”, a plane strikes Elronde’s church-tower – killing almost every attendee. Elronde demonstrates another miracle by floating in the air, descending from the tower untouched and reveals himself as the titular character in the “Neptune” prologue. Mar fails to retrieve Ea from the building; furthermore, the grandiose plane-attack was pinned on android-perpetrators. Mar quickly realizes that all this was Elronde’s plan to take down Nieve and the Patriarch’s operations, both of which rely significantly on androids. In the name of protecting the world, Elronde donates two trillion dollars to an identification system that aims to capture and destroy all androids hiding in human society.

Fully awakened from her persistent coma, K’tai believes she is living in a dreamy afterlife when in reality she has been transported to Realm.

Unbeknownst to Mar, Ea wakes up alive – yet far into the cancerous wilderness with Helon in what appears to be a miracle.


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Mar Rising

Upon seeing the news, Mar finally gets out of his seat to see Nieve.

“The times have changed Nieve.” He sighs.

Overnight, Mar writes a biography about Nieve. Detailing her life and works, he makes sure nearly everything is false.

The next morning, all twelve hundred of Nieve’s recruits were gathered in a meeting hall to discuss the division of power after the loss of Ea. Mar has the hall locked and gassed.

Every recruit was put in cryo, scattered in random closets in their towers.

In his mind, he's been contemplating. Elronde has more assets in the media spotlight: not-so-covert control over the energy and construction sectors; ownership of hundreds of tier-one towers; regular influx of religious donations; leadership status of the world's most prominent peace movement, and influence over a considerable number of common followers and an unknown inner circle of religious zealots in his ranks. The warlord has amassed presumably tremendous wealth through military profiteering and instigating conflicts behind governments – yet the wealth has been collected for no apparent reason. There also has been no display of their power from realm. Their status as a returnee is simply a conjecture based on the fact that Elronde has not been able to take them down. Though this returnee may have significant control over the majority of governments, Elronde’s strategic manipulation of public perception of war and androids has posed an effective lockdown on any of the warlord’s activities.

No choice. Mar knew he had no stance to infiltrate to the inner circle of Elronde's ranks.

With neither zeata's known, Mar embarks.




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K’tai IV
or, "Realm"

The sun shone into the cyan waves. I emerge from the water to realize I am floating in the middle of an ocean. The clouds were so low and so close to the waters that it felt like I could touch them. And layers upon layers of pure white clouds stacked to reach the sky, one that looked higher than any sky I have seen before in my life. The sky had a crystalline depth, as if it encased a few other worlds within its blue and rosy hues. As I began to fully open my eyes, the light from the sun nearly overwhelmed my vision and I became blinded by light. In panic, I tried to rise from the waters, but it was no good. I was floating in an ocean, by an unknown force, yet the splashes I was making only added to the feeling of drowning in blank white. Anything but that. Anything but going back to that.


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The Wild, II

Later that day, Helon tucked Ea into bed as Ea fell into another episode of deep sleep.

Over the next few days, Ea had more waking hours. The experiences were fragments that occasionally seemed like distant memories, and occasionally, like dreams. Helon carried her outside a lot; or was it that Ea fell asleep whenever they were back in their room? Blue skies were always accompanied by Helon’s smiling face, turned to the side in order to talk to Ea on her back. Helon was always excitedly telling her something, always joyous, but Ea cannot remember all the conversations.


Experience I

“Okay, do you know what you call a gigantic booger?” Helon asked one time.

“No…not really.” Ea answered.

“Your new world.” Helon answered. “Do you know what you call a smaller one?”

Ea didn’t remember her response to that question.

“You don’t. You flick it away.” Helon said.

Ea remembers being puzzled.

“You got two on the left. Now that you’re awake, booger removal is a task I return to your good hands.”

Experience II

Helon had the eyes of an eagle when she was silent; it looked like they looked into other realms. They traveled in other realms. Giant columns of cancer cells, rose-colored and glorious, only marred by the scabby surface. They towered over the two women and cast great shadows. On another day, what looked like layers upon layers of an intricate web formed between these columns, with enough holes in them to look like soft gray lace. In another realm, tan-colored elliptical things, with what looked like fingers growing out of its two sides, floating – no, traveling in different directions on a lake. And another, a deep black pit that gave off slick grunts, and the occasional violet spark.

Experience III

Their return home was always a journey that made an impression. They lived inside a structure that Ea has never seen the true face of. Their hideout is entirely engulfed by cancer cells; from the outside, it looks like a giant piece of coral. Yet the surface was always slimy. Past the many doors, however, was the comfort of a bed.

Experience IV

Helon slept on the hard tile floor, with a jacket laid on the ground. Ea had the bed to herself.

When Ea awoke, sometimes she would catch Helon half way through a one-sided conversation with her. Helon spoke of good things in life to Ea; she spoke of a beautiful world outside; she spoke of friends she used to have. She encouraged Ea to get well.

Experience V

It was one of the rare days with light snow. Helon mentioned something about water collection and finding the perfect spot.

Ea found herself on a piece of tarp out in the wild. Helon was giggling nonstop. She saw Helon hold a giant glass tub in her two hands, held high in the sky, running left and right. It seemed like Helon’s intention was to catch the snowflakes, but the glass tub showed minimal progress. What she does remember is the sight of Helon’s tongue, slightly fat, hanging out on the side, sometimes licking snow, other times, dribbling saliva.

Experience VI

Helon was talking to someone in the room. Or, rather, no one in the room. Helon cried; Helon laughed.

Helon held a picture frame.

Later that evening, Helon did a very rhythmic dance involving significant shoulder movement.

Experience VII

Helon was running, with Ea on her back. There was a lot of sweat. Helon suddenly took a turn around a hill. She stopped and shook her head. Ea looked around; there was a strange green tint on the cell-covered ground. A moving mass that looked like a cluster of clipped toenails was leaving a trail of clear pus that turned green. What looked like small sprouts, off-yellow, with the shape of baby-teeth were growing from where the pus has left its mark.


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“Patriarch”, or,
"Ring of Dawn"

"I am the creator of the droids. I will head Elronde’s Android Identification system; take me to your leader.”

With a single line of introduction, Mar finds himself navigating through a multi-national military organization, eventually standing in front of the returnee himself: The Imperial Patriarch.

He is dressed in full armor. Mar recognizes him; he is one of the droids Mar designed. Mar kneels.

"Imperial Patriarch. I am Mar, designer of the droids which have been central to our previous business. As you may have suspected, I worked for someone in the likeness of Elronde and yourself. I have not killed her directly, but through my own failure. She was in that building."

The Patriarch spoke softly. "It does not concern me. What concerns me is what you want."

Mar was analyzing the voice. It was the original voice box, but the assertiveness in the voice was not part of the programming. He knew what the Patriarch was up to: cutting straight to his zeata. He has prepared for this, so without hesitation he responds:

"To not just kill, but replace Elronde."

The Patriarch remains silent.

"I have worked hard from a nobody to who I am today. In one single miscalculation I've lost nearly everything, thanks to Elronde. What I have left is myself. I don't just want Elronde dead, I want to have what Elronde has. This is our chance; the world’s support for the Android ID system. Use your connections, place me in there, and I ensure that all our own androids pass the system."

The Patriarch laughs. Hearing your own Android laugh with someone else's persona was unsettling, and it did shake Mar's confidence.

"You will never be Elronde. His insanity will never be replaced by another. Yet you got me; I would love to take him down. Follow the instructions I send you tonight. As a show of what I'm capable of, tomorrow I take you to see Elronde himself, in his own abode."

Mar, still kneeling, nods.

"I wish to ask one last question," Mar says without looking up."

"Yes."

"Patriarch, will I see Elronde with you tomorrow?"

"No. A General will take you. The day Elronde meets me is the day he dies."


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K’tai, V

Slowly, I hear a voice. The voice and its song painted images in my mind, and although I knew I was not seeing, but merely imagining the pictures in my head from the beauty of the song itself, it was enough to calm me. The sky dropped from its clear blue to a deep red. The sun lowered closer to the horizons. And at that moment something emerged.

Elegantly dressed in translucent white fabric that looked more like wisps of air, she was a being that was much taller than I was – yet with a youthfulness that could not be described. It was in her face, but not her eyes. Those eyes were old and sorrowful, and did not fit the childish wonder that the rest of her stature radiated. She seemed to look at me, and smile, and when she did, her song did not stop.

That was when I realized: I could see again. The layers of clouds have been softened, fading into soft horizontal sweeps of colors that were vividly orange and violet against the reddening sky. And beyond it was the warm white of the sun, slowly setting in the shoreline in the great distance, a bright red that was slowly losing its glow. The waters have calmed, almost pastel in their hue, as the glistening against the sunlight was no longer. The sea was a deep red color under the sunset sky, with a sweet aroma in its thick hues.

She was still singing; her name was Heira. I did not ask, and nor did she tell. But hearing the song in itself exposed so much of her, that I immediately knew who she was. And that was when I realized there were six of them in total. I had never seen anything like them before. Titans, they almost were, but with a nature that could not intimidate, no matter what size they might have been. Three young men and three young women they were, surrounding me, but not looking at me. Their eyes were looking for something in the distance.

That was the song of Heira: sunset.


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The Wild, III

One day, Ea woke up and drew in a deep breath. She looked to the side of her bed; Helon was working again at her computer station. “Helon,” Ea said, “I get it. All these different types of cancer cells. All these types. How do we kill them in one go.”

Helon looked at Ea and smiled. She said nothing. She picked up Ea in her arms and placed her at a small table. Seated in front of it, Ea found out it was actually a quaint dining table for two. Helon appeared with two bowls filled with cancer cells, and signalled Ea to eat. Ea, of course, only watched Helon eat for the first ten minutes. Helon made faces exaggerating the enjoyment of her food a couple times. Then chewed ferociously like a squirrel with nuts. She had this mocking ease with her smile, and she never stopped eating; finally, she signalled Ea to look down. Ea dropped her gaze to find many punctures on her right arm; injections, she remembers. Ea starts eating.

It tasted alright. Almost good.

Helon stood up after she watched Ea finish.

Suddenly, her face lit up. “Hey Ea, did your dad give you piggy-back rides?”

“I think so,” Ea replied slowly.

“Did you like them?” Helon asked.

“I think as a kid, yes.” Ea answered.

“Well, have you ever thought in your adult life, oh, I wish I was a big baby! I want milk!” Helon asked.

“…sometimes. Just to be a kid again. I don’t buy milk often because it is too heavy to carry.”

“Well, you’ve won a prize!” Helon lifted Ea up in one sweep.

“When I was a kid I asked my dad to teach me how to be the best piggyback rider in the world! Hahaha! Look at my thighs!” Helon stuck one of her legs out at an awry right angle and shook it. It did not jiggle.

Ea was then taken on a highly uncomfortable ride, with Helon thundering out of the building.

“Thigh! Thigh! Thigh! Thigh!” Helon called out with each step.

After five long minutes, Helon came to a halt, and resumed her more serious face.

“Ea, there’s something really dangerous I must do.”

“What is it?” Ea asked.

Helon jumped up and down. Ea almost fell off Helon’s back, but Helon’s strong arms supported her and even pulled up to cushion the effect of gravity.

Helon looked at Ea the best she could, side-faced, and smiled. “I think you now believe that I am the best piggy-back rider in the world.”

Helon continued her thundering through the wilderness, bright sun shining before them.

“I win gold for safety design too!” She yelled, as she continued prancing to no specific destination.

They returned home later that day. Ea rested for a while.

“You’ve been semi-conscious for the past six days. I have resumed my monitoring of the wilderness, which used to be a weekly task shared between me and Doc, and I think with what you saw today you can realize that this is a highly transient-landscape. The doctor has set up instruments to provide estimates on the rate-of-increase of new species, but much of this depends on the definition of a ‘species’. There are fine lines between them, yet some fine lines make the difference between tumor or no tumor, life or death. People before my time have helped the doctor document over 300,000 distinct types, with another Database B on some 27,000 potential extinctions as well as a third Database C for 3,000 potential resurgences after extinctions. This massive set of cells is evolving without ever reaching much stability, and through analyzing the effects of different species and colonies on one another – almost like a patchwork or a complex game of checkers – I can make educated guesses about what is happening around the periphery of our entire world. This is how I know where to travel for drinking water, edible cell mass, and more information on how to control transmissible cancer.” Helon said.

She pointed at her station. “I don’t know how much you know about cancer, Ea, but this is my project that I left before I went back to the city. I am constructing a virus that inserts a sequence for apoptosis. This is my pet project.”

That evening, Helon took time to meticulously instruct Ea on how to identify cell masses that were the safest to walk on. And, how to avoid walking into potential threats such as off-gassing, hidden pus, and sinking ground. She told Ea of a story of a cell-type that sinks in, capturing cell-colonies that walk by in a digestive sinkhole. She taught Ea the basic cell-types that were edible, and how to locate their growth in a changing mosaic; and how to avoid the ones that would contain heavy metals or pesticides from the soil. With an intention to survive, Ea took in as much as she could, but fatigue took over her after hours of information.

For dinner they sat around the small table, face to face. At the request of Helon, Ea was asked to sing children’s songs. When she sang one that Helon knew, Helon would join in and clap. When she sang the unfamiliar ones, Helon provided straightforward critiques of her performance as well as of the lyrical content. “Not enough metaphor!” was something Ea heard over and over again that evening. Helon seemed more content after each song, and after seventeen of them, they both went to bed.


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Kingdoms of Earth

After the dismissal of Mar, the Patriarch speaks to an empty room. "Falcon, I want him monitored, but moreover, I want him. He's going to be useful in the next little while."

In the next while, as the ripple effects of Elronde’s self-sabotage continued to permeate the fabric of society, the world became divided between pro-war and anti-war; pro-religion and pro-technology; pro-Elronde and anti-Elronde; as the fights continued, a B-list song could be heard on the lesser frequencies of the radio.


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K’tai VI

Heira’s voice was still ringing when a black dot emerged from the distance. It was a floating figure, dressed in similarly wispy fabric but in a regal deep purple. He sang, low soft tremors; at first he seemed to harmonize with the song of Heira flowing throughout the entire landscape. Yet quickly, from the center of the sky, the world changed. A cool black started to permeate and fall upon everything around us. While I watched the sun struggle to maintain its position on the horizon, clouds surged in to block whatever light the sky had within it.

I noticed what I was in and gasped. The water had turned into a dark ink, losing its transparency on my skin. In his voice you could hear nothing like the moon or the stars, but simply the darkest nightfall.

The female voice faded. That was when I realized that the dark figure had always been singing in the background: the moment the female voice became silent.

The dark figure continued, still hovering in the sky, until he merged with the background and I could see nothing no longer. The voice, however, was strong, and it continued with greater intensity.

A quick rhythm started beside me. It was one of us: it was a song of beckoning, a hurried request.

They did not speak to you, but you knew. You knew who he was; it was unmistakably him, hearing his voice.

This was the creation of the song of Leite: from the depths of the deep black ocean I saw light, and the ripples on their backs. They were agile creatures with fins, glowing with a cool gray light. With the rhythm of his voice, the sword-like creatures increased in size as they rose towards us from the depths. I felt the force, and I knew this was for me. I was among six who could simply hover in the skies and carry themselves. Before I knew it, the fish-like creatures whose length were twice my height converged and carried us like a synchronized machine speeding towards the distance, in the direction where the sun once was. I could almost hear the voice of the dark figure distort as we sped past him, as the weak light of the sun beyond the horizon was to be found again.

Leite and his voice continued, pushing forward, accelerating us into the distance at a speed I had never experienced before. The air flowing past me made it difficult to breathe, but I did. I knew I had to live this life. Give it my all.


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Santhia’s Archives

The day started with another trip into the wilderness.

“Yesterday you asked me how we kill them all, Ea. That is a good question, given the vastly different types of enemies before us, I am going to show you, one by one, the shared traits between all of them.”

Helon then went off on a long tangent about a girl named Santhia, her childhood, her looks, her favorite types of food. Ea wasn’t particularly listening, but she caught that Santhia was also kidnapped into the wild by the Doctor whom Helon called Akroe, or just Doc. Eventually, Helon took Ea into a leaky concrete building amidst the rubble in the wild.

They entered a dark musky interior.

“Welcome to Santhia’s archives.” Helon murmured.

There was no vast collection of leather-bound books. Helon walked towards a metallic and lidded vase, standing right in the center of the room. It was small, with a patina that didn’t entirely obscure its shine in the dark emptiness around it. Helon reached down and opened the lid. There was a gray powder inside, with three portable hard-drives sticking out.

“This is Santhia’s Hypothesis: every cell-type has at least one cell-type which it can consume, as well as one cell-type which can consume itself. In short, cancer cells invade and eat other cancer cells, and can be eaten by other cells. Simply put, they don’t have blood vessels feeding them nutrients anymore when they’re outside of a dog or human host. In order to survive, and as part of their metabolism, it is only reasonable that they use other cells as food in a predator-prey relationship. Which then brings us to the most important implication: we can theoretically attack any type of cancer with another cancer-cell that is its predator. If the newly introduced predator-cancer is not suited to surviving in a human host, or is more easily surgically removed, or is more responsive to treatment, then we’re one step closer to remission. Santhia here has conducted over a million experiments to create a strength-weakness chart that eventually developed into an elaborate food web consisting of thousands of cancer cell-types. Her life’s work, before she passed away, is stored here. This used to be her lab.”

At once Ea understood why some of the women never returned to the city: they were working on possible cures. She looked at the ashes before her. If only more people knew about Santhia. That was the only thing she could say, but those words were only mouthed and never left her lips in the dark silence.

However, the news that a predator cell-type could be out there to cure Nieve was enough to keep Ea happy for the whole day. She had renewed motivation to learn how to survive this wilderness.

That evening, Ea had to sing more children’s songs due to persistent requests from Helon. Helon joined in on some of the ones new to her yesterday. Ea joined in a bit of clapping, but not in excess.


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Mar Soliloquy

Walking alone in the dark indoor strip-mall, Mar’s footsteps lag behind the music put on low volume on the radio.

“The Aethos of Water has risen and devoured
The Aethos of Stars prepares for rebirth
The Aethos of Thunder is held in waters
The Aethos of Fire will scorch the earth
The Aethos of Light sounds her call
The Aethos of Air swiftly evades
I, the Aethos of Life, watches all”

In his head, Mar walks to his own throne speech:
Nieve, I hope you are still with me. I cannot let you bear the pain of losing Ea, not now. But I've allied myself with sufficient resources to find her, if she is still alive. Your life's work is safe; I have shut down all our operations; let it hibernate. Hidden from sight in this strange new world I find us in. I've declared you dead to the world, with over a thousand bodies joining you in cryo to make hunting you down a bit more difficult. I have immobilized each and every potential traitor save one.

So be with me, lest I fall.


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K’tai VII

We approached shore, and I felt the smooth, even slightly warm skin below me fall into the depths. The finned creatures have carried us to our destination. On the pure rush of the resulting waves, and perhaps with the aid of the six, we arrived upon a shore. The beach was indistinguishable from the entire island itself, as it was covered in the finest clear sand that was the color of turquoise. Though it slid as I walked, following the six beings walking tall, it was a journey through a beautiful, almost intricately carved landscape of a sea-green sand shifting under the sky.

As we traversed the landscape, there it was. A new dark figure rising from the sea, floating to the centre of the island. The snow fell with her mourning voice, thick and unrelenting, never swaying in the air once, but striking with certainty in each descent from the sky. White was everywhere, and crowding the sky. Very quickly, the entire island was covered under the snowy thickness, glaring against the deep greens of the sea.

One of the six in white rose into the sky with the dark figure.

The song of Glyshe was calm, but within it was power. Unlike the song of the dark figure, which was full force yet with notes that were as delicate as snow, Glyshe sang the opposite: over a soft, still melody, the voice struck warmth into your heart. Starting from the centre of the island, not far from where we stood watching the two floating figures above us, a pool of glistening clear water started to accumulate and expand, consuming the blanket of snow around it at a steady pace. The dark figure did not seem to notice, but continued the song that sent snow nearly as thick as curtains - ones which induced a feeling of suffocation. When the snow cleared, she had vanished with it.

The sky restored its clarity. The song of Glyshe had created a blue, gem-like lake, adorned by the white rim of snow left in the higher grounds of the island. That was when I heard a voice in the heights of the skies.


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Lanmis’ Orphanage

The day started with another trip into the wild. This time, Helon was telling a story about Lanmis, a far-south girl who sported a fashionable bald head. By the end of Lanmis’ experiments, she had the softest hair that was naturally the color of snow.

They arrived at what Helon introduced as Lanmis’ Orphanage. The image of the playground in ruins and a sandbox filled with cancer cells engulfed Ea’s mind.

After showing Ea around, Helon started to speak.

“This is Lanmis’ Hypothesis. Cancer cells have behaviours that are modified by their environments, with the human body being one type of environment. This…” Helon paused for a while. “Santhia died of brain cancer, and I am almost happy that she did not live to see Lanmis’ arrival. The direct implication of Lanmis’ Hypothesis is this: cells that normally would be predated by another cell-type in the wild may survive the predation when it is an active cancer in a human organism. Essentially, Santhia’s hypothesis is only a step towards a cure and not the cure itself. Santhia has documented more than one cell type that can attack your sister’s cancer – but the success rate in what we call a human environment so far has been zero. The human environment is entirely different from the wild; what we’re looking at is killing a fish stranded on the beach and killing the same fish in a lake. Lanmis knew human experiments had to be done, specifically when every human being is technically a different environment with our genetic differences. She never succumbed to kidnapping healthy human beings however; she was a tactful and hard-working human who gained guardianship over fourteen abandoned children with the cancer, traversing between the city and the wild.”

Helon took Ea into the structure that is the orphanage, and Ea gasped immediately. On the wall was a mosaic of pictures of fourteen children, all smiling, and that of a beautiful lady.

“She left no cures. As you can see, the success rate in applying Santhia’s Hypothesis as of right now is less than 1/14. She did, however, leave significant research on how the human body serves as a suitable environment for the growth of cancer cells. Cancer cells do not recognize themselves to be part of the larger animal, and therefore have no problems in exploiting the human body as just a set of resources for survival. Cancer does not want to kill, it simply uses. The fact that your normal cells can only access nutrients provided to them by your organism means they are at an automatic disadvantage for survival: cancer cells have access to all that, plus no inhibition to devour every single normal cell of your being. This is the second common property stemming from Lanmis’ research: humans are only environments to cancer cells.”

It was a solemn day for Ea, but she told herself there is nothing to be sad about. If other human beings have sacrificed themselves in search of a cure, she now has a life that could do the same.

That evening she sang a children’s song that she made up for Helon, with plenty of metaphors. Helon clapped and ended her commentary with: “too many metaphors.”


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Before the throne of Elronde

Mar joins a large crowd gathered on a glorious rooftop, over four hundred stories in the sky. He is clothed in bright red, a sign that he is a personal lover of his companion. General R was a quiet man with a slender build; his high rank among Elronde's elite is evident through the bows they've received in their journey to the top. Mar has seen the General bow to no one. Until Elronde rose from his platform.

The platform is a giant cylindrical structure, with numerous carvings of unknown symbols, surrounded by gem stones of all different colors in a tasteless array. It never stopped rotating, and, according to General R, has not for years.

Elronde was dressed in royal blue, the sunlight nearly washing out his features aside from his smiling eyes. He was handsome. Then came the actual business of the day's gathering, none of which Mar could understand. Chants, reports, arguments, lasting over an hour, all in a language Mar could not decipher. Mar then understood why outsiders are allowed into personal meetings. At the end of the meeting, a group of seven people, young and old, were invited up front. They were all nude.

Elronde descended from his platform and laid his hand over each of them individually as they wept. One by one, after a brief encounter with Elronde, they were led in front of the giant cylindrical structure. The platform opened, with a giant dark hole emitting the sound of rolling thunder and a foul odour that Mar could not comprehend. All seven nude individuals were thrown in – including the child of maybe five years of age. To Mar's surprise, they shut the structure, a fire was started underneath it, and the gathering was dismissed.

“Clay, in your words. Resources to build a world.” General R’s whisper in Mar’s ear was the only sentence Mar could understand in the meeting, but not.


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K’tai VIII

The song of Elbenshu carried the softness of the winds, yet the melody turned at a speed I had never experienced before. Winged creatures, the color of fire, streaked across the sky above us. They made no landing, but rather carried in their spear-like beaks golden blossoms that all at once stormed across the sky across the island. A wild, vast storm of petals it was, and it brought even more light than the thick snow that once was. The majority of the flowers made their landing on the island, decorating the lake nested within the ornamental border of snow. Elbenshu restored his silence, and the birds were no more.

We were in a field of gold petals. The figures seated themselves in an orderly fashion, and I followed. Heira; Leite; Glyshe; Elbenshu; those were the four who have seared their voices into my mind. Recalling their songs seemed to tell me about their memories, their past, and who they were. There were two others which have remained silent; a young boy whose white hair often caught the blue of the skies and the seas, quiet, unassuming, moving slowly but with an elegant weight to his mannerisms. The other was a sharp-featured girl whose long hair was slickly collected, with the color of a silver-like metal. As I looked at her, she looked back and handed me a blossom which she had peeled the petals off of. Within the centre of the flower was a round shell. I held my hand out to take it from her. She picked up another shell, cracked it, and ate the fruit within.

I followed. The fruit within my mouth had a slight bitter earthiness, which only made the aroma much sweeter. Almost like jasmine. Its nectar was light and smooth against the tongue.

From the moment I ate the fruit, I felt myself become part of the seed. The way it flew, soaring high above our island in the skies; delicately carried by the birds, though it used to grow from a tall tree with whitened leaves in this season. In the tree’s youth the leaves were green, and it was only in age did the flowers and the seeds take on the color of the sun. The planters of the trees were figures in white, and I almost saw the faces. Yes; I was sure that was Heira amidst the branches. Heira was tending the tree, observing the angles of its growth with her violet eyes, and she looked into the distance as a white figure sang an unfamiliar song. The song drew boundaries for the waters, and the waters gave way to reveal solid ground slowly rising. The ground was a light turquoise, glistening in the sun.

I used my hands to swipe away a patch of snow. Underneath was the same sand as the island in the image in my mind.

In my mind, the tapestry continued. The voices of the dark figures rang across the island. The song of Heira this time, asked the sun to shine with all its strength. The dark figures retreated; they had once retreated from this island before. Heira led her pack to advance into the territory of the dark figures. A dark figure sang, using complete darkness to blind their advance. I was in that sea; I saw myself drifting in that sea, and I felt it.

The song of Leite led us back to this island, with the swift help of the finned creatures. A dark figure called upon snow, which froze any potential growth from within the sands. Glyshe countered with warm waters, collecting the snow into a pool. The song of Elbenshu brought forth seeds of a different type to scatter competition.

They are trying to suppress the growth of something in the sands beneath me.

That was when I woke up: I heard the clamorous song of another dark figure. It did not travel towards us. It stayed a safe distance away, yet something worse was being beckoned to the island.

A giant wave, still swelling and increasing in height, was making its way towards us.


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Helon’s Garden

The day did not start with a trip. Helon slept until late. Ea did not wake her up, and scooted around, limp on the floor, in order to prepare breakfast.

When Helon got up from the floor that morning, she seemed quiet and almost lady-like. She nodded off Ea’s attempt to serve her breakfast, and started working at her station right away. Ea let Helon do what she wanted.

After a while, Helon spoke. “This is Akroe’s Hypothesis. Or, what I’d like to call, the Akroe-Helon Hypothesis. It states that the only command running in cancer cells is to maximize its survival – given that it has lost the apoptosis command. Regardless of the number of errors in the replication process, these cells will live on until either it is eaten, or its accumulated errors eventually result in deadly malfunction. The reason why this is also my hypothesis, is that one, Akroe is dead and he can’t stop me from taking credit, and two, I am the one taking over the apoptosis vaccine project. If there can exist a virus that has the sole function of inserting the apoptosis sequence, it can attack cancer cells without doing any foreseeable damage to any healthy cells. If the virus is capable of infecting all types of cells, it would be capable of attacking all types of cancer. Not only that, as a virus, it should be able to replicate itself through the destruction of cancer cells and propagate through the body on its own; if it is airborne, it can navigate entire populations. The elixir, we used to call it. The elixir to eliminating the entire cancerous mass wrapping itself around our world would be this virus.”

Helon suddenly stood up, and opened up a door that Ea thought led to nowhere. Helon walked by Ea’s side softly, picked her up, and whispered: “come take a look.”

In what appeared to be a closet, Ea’s jaws dropped to see a wild array of cancer cells blossoming in front of her face. She then realized they were all encased in a glass casket.

“This is Akroe.”

Ea’s mouth was open, but silent.

“Akroe’s Grave is right here. In most cases we say things like their spirit lives on, but in this case literally his body lives on. Ea, do you see what the point of this demonstration is? All those cells out there in the wilderness are extensions of animals and human beings who once were alive, and now only a select few cells from those living bodies, the “elite”, have lived on despite the larger organism having passed away. This is a showcase of cancer’s will to survive: they will survive even if it means killing the larger organism. Perhaps what is strange is not them, but us: complex organisms require programmed apoptosis, namely, death, in order to survive. Death is essential to our design. Starting from our time in the womb, apoptosis kills cells that otherwise would be between our fingers so fingers could exist. They define our faces, our smiles. They give each and every organ its constrained space. Without apoptosis, we would be a ball of flesh…or even worse…that.” Helon looked at the glass casket. “He’s alive, but he is not him.”

More songs that evening, and it took on a grave tone knowing that there is one other person in the building. Listening, but not listening.


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The Nature of Things

"Interesting. Public display of murder or human sacrifice...is he not afraid of destroying his reputation?" Mar asked.

General R spoke in a soft voice. “That depends on who you ask and what their worldview is. How do you think life came to be in our world?”

“Science. And guess what, I think what I saw was human sacrifice.” Mar replied.

General R shook his head once. “What science.”

“Atoms were irradiated; with the external energy, they arranged into amino acids and proteins, and from there, simple organisms, eventually reaching all life.”

General R started his story.

"Elronde was raised by a grandfather, his sole family member, who eventually left him too. Having lived in poverty for most of his life, Elronde returned from Realm, became immensely wealthy through the SEED project, and started from celebrity businessman to TV personality to spiritual leader to eventually, the godlike leader with his personal following. One day, after having gained a considerable following, he invited his grandfather to a ceremonial ritual of sorts. Rumors say that the two lost touch when his grandfather forgot who Elronde was due to dementia. In an ostentatious reconnection with his only family in the world, the world got to see the plane fall and his grandfather killed. Elronde funded the entire rescue and clean-up effort – in an attempt to find out what or who is to blame for this disaster. He uncovered no causes for him to exact revenge; he did, however, find the body of his grandfather. Perhaps it would have been better if it had been burned to ashes. The half-recognizable and half-mutilated state was not something Elronde could spin a beautiful religious tale from. That was when, Something, or Someone gave Elronde the idea of the so-called circle. It is nothing but a giant concrete mixer, with the plane parts and his grandfather's corpse rotating within. That is reality; the story that Elronde spins is one of scientific reincarnation, an emulation of how our world came to be. The concrete mixer is space; the plane and corpse are matter; the spinning and the fire you saw is the energy; and the rest, is time. Just as how you and I both are the results of random recombination of these basic elements over billions of years, Elronde believes that it is only a matter of time before his grandfather is revived, riding carefree without dementia in a brand new plane." The General paused for Mar to process. “What do you believe? Do you think the grandfather will be reincarnated in there?”

Mar was speechless.

“If not, then how did you and I come into being? We are merely the re-arrangements of organic matter. Given sufficient energy, and waiting it out, his grandfather will reappear – why not?”

General R didn’t pause as long this time.

"You can imagine what actually goes on inside; human remains shredded up by metal and glass, and constant further breaking-down of the original plane parts. Elronde has set cameras throughout the plane to monitor any progress and alert him of the day his grandfather has successfully reincarnated. The images are interesting to say the least, and I can tell you a few monks here have leaked those videos into a special market. In an attempt to accelerate the process, first was the offering of food and clothing for his grandfather. Over the years, the offering rituals have evolved to new blood, skin, and human cells for his grandfather to be reconstructed from. Human sacrifice is not what he calls it, as it is believed that everyone who enters will re-emerge as a new body, riding on a plane happily with the grandfather of their most revered one. People who cannot pay off their gambling debt; families who cannot recover from the loss of a loved one; the allure of escaping this life to a new creation draws countless volunteers for Elronde's Great Circle ritual. He is the master of human minds, the story-teller for adults, and he himself claims to belong somewhere called the Cradle of Myths. As one among his inner elites, I for one know that he firmly believes he will not die. He is positive he will become immortal, and join strange pantheons in a world beyond our own."

"And what do you believe in? Between the Patriarch and Elronde, how do you interpret your life?" Mar asked.

"Similar, the two are. As a religious leader and as a military leader, I have been reduced to nothing but orders handed me." The General's voice gained certain authority.

“Your silence on what is an actual truth kills hope for many more than just yourself."

General R paused, reflecting back on Elronde’s words. Then he spoke. "Hope was never meant for humans."

"Why do you live then?"

"Why should I die then?"

Mar smiles. "It's still in you." Mar leans closer to the General's face. "I will bring you news."


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K’tai IX

The song of Welmtu rang, which to my surprise, was an effortlessly ferocious sound that was breathy in its long, sustained calls. A storm, a full storm had gathered around Welmtu, pushing outwards around the entire island. This did not scare away the dark figure, and that equally powerful voice continued in cacophony with Welmtu’s song.

The inevitable happened; the storm met the wave, as Welmtu continued unleashing tremendous force in his howls. Then he succeeded. The wave did not overwhelm us, but rather crashed upon itself before engulfing the entire island. I was sure the six would survive, but I was uncertain about my own safety. As gravity pulled the gigantic wave back down to the sea, I finally remembered to breathe. But the underside of the wave washed over us, and with it came the warm gray mud from the ocean itself. The mud swiped away the snow and dulled the pristine glow of the central lake. The blank canvas, the landscape that once was, lay still under the wild splatter of unrestrained paint.


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Helon’s Game

Ea nearly fell out of her bed when Helon stormed in with a big smile and two tubs of unfamiliar cells on her shoulder. “Come on Ea!” Helon did not wait to drop off the tubs and carry Ea on her shoulders. They embarked on their journey without breakfast.

Helon was walking fast, and her doggish pant made Ea feel like it would be good news that Helon is bringing on that day.

They walked towards hills in the distance; after another fifteen minutes or so, it became unmistakable that the hills were Helon’s targets. Ea tried to analyze the tall mounds of cancer cells from a distance, but could not decipher what was mysterious about them. She did notice what appeared to be another three tubs of cells, similar to the ones Helon brought in that morning, all sitting silently in the distance.

“Grab on,” Helon said as they approached the faraway tubs. Helon let go of one hand to bend down and unscrew the lid while balancing Ea on her back. Helon lifted the tub filled with cancer cells slowly, and suddenly chucked it almost farther than the eye could see.

Ea scanned the sky for the little black dot. It hit one of the hills on the slopes, and in the blue sky the hill disintegrated – within seconds. Ea watched in silence as Helon quickly picked up another tub, and chucked it again. One hill fell apart just like before, while another one visibly split into two mounds. Helon then picked some of the mass from the tubs with her bare hands, and smashed it right down near where she was standing. The ground underneath them scattered in all directions immediately, revealing another darker, fibrous layer of cell mass hidden underneath. “Magic!” Helon called out, one arm presenting an invisible platter to the sky.

“This is Helon’s Hypothesis. It states the fourth common factor we have come to know: cancer cells are normal cells which gain unicellular properties. They may be able to form symbiotic relationships, or a colony, or a superorganism that acts as one entity – but they also have the option to split and go their own ways, or even compete with the cells they were bonded with just moments ago whenever faced with a hazard. I just destroyed a few gigantic colonies before your eyes, but very few of those cells have actually died. They are crawling about looking for new opportunities to survive, either on their own, or form colonies again. The cells you just saw, P1804, are one of the most responsive to their natural enemy, with significant mobility to make for a theatrical display – the reversion back to unicellular form is just another option in their arsenal of options for survival. Ea.” Helon suddenly turned her head over. “Do you know why that even matters?”

Ea shook her head.

“Being unicellular means you cannot get cancer. Cancer is a positive mutation that significantly maximizes a cell’s chances of survival, and the past few days of exploration have been all about the specific properties that make cancer the fittest to survive. Cancer becomes a problem when cancer kills the original multi-cellular organism; this happens when the normal cells cannot keep up with the cancer cells and become merely prey to cancer cells. When a multi-cellular organism needs to mutate, it needs to make sure that all non-mutated and mutated cells remain compatible with each other to avoid what we call cancer. When a unicellular organism is forced to mutate, that threat of incompatibility is zero. It simply is that stronger self, and it retains its choice to form a superorganism in the future.” In her mind, Helon could hear Doc’s voice, and his words manifested themselves in the air through her voice. “Which means, starting from zero risk of cancer for unicellular organisms, mutation is accompanied with greater risk of cancer the more complex an organism becomes. Mutation, the only driving force, the only scientific mechanism of creating complex organisms, poses significant threat of cancer to complex organisms but zero threat of cancer to unicellular organisms. Which of the two is the fittest to survive?

Perhaps the wilderness of cancer cells is what we were always meant to be.”

Dinner came, and the two ladies sang with all that they could muster.


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Short-term Mysteries

Since being returned “home”, Mar has not been summoned nor contacted for three whole days. He is alone in a different, more elaborate suite fitting for the creator of the droids – for he knows he is monitored. It was a nice space, but his mind was not there. He's wasted his precious moments with General R on General R himself – inconsequential, in comparison to what is at stake. He should have spent the time hacking the General’s zeata, or digging for more information to lure the Patriarch into a second meeting. Yet he was sidetracked, by the mystery of life itself.

The grandfather in competition with the disassociated organic mass. In his mind, the image of the latter could not be erased.

What could Elronde want, and what could lead to his demise? How could a convincing proposal to take down Elronde be constructed - when the Patriarch himself has not been able to take Elronde down for years? Why hasn’t he been taken down, if the Patriarch claims to hold powers to kill Elronde at any time?

Yet what if the Patriarch is just a delusional lunatic? What other topic could be brought up to warrant face-to-face discussion with the Patriarch, to confirm? And if not, how else could the Patriarch's zeata be uncovered?

Alone in his room, Mar has no clue whether his next orders are for a mission, to be executed, or for nothing at all – for solitary confinement for the rest of his life. He knows he is being watched at all times; if he were in the Patriarch’s position, he would do the same. The fact that the Patriarch monitors Mar with military guards is plenty polite: the Patriarch could have asked for Mar to be chipped or partly droidized for easy monitoring.

His promise to General R was premature.


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K’tai X
or, "Venus Rising"

Heira was voicing a soft melody. She looked at me.

There was a new light glowing over the island. A pure white light surrounded by an orange blaze. And that was when I heard her other voice, almost speaking to me - and I, understanding.

The mud is matter, a specific arrangement of energy. The light Heira is speaking into existence is energy; but what is it that makes the light different from the mud, if the two are formed by the same essence? I could see it, or, should I say, hear it. It was in the predetermined arrangement of the energy, the specific order which allows one set of energy to form the nutrient-rich sea-clay while another, the light that is slowly warming the mud into a matte powder. Heira asked me to listen carefully, the rhythm in everything, the song that maps the predetermined order within every element in the landscape around me. Find, she said, exactly what it is, its innate unique characteristics, listen to how that arrangement of energy sounds, and voice it – those were the commands she handed to me, though I never heard her speak a single word I could comprehend. Speak, exactly that. To my surprise, I followed, and my speech alone, without any melody to it, caused the light she had kindled to glow even more broadly.

I realized then, that the song is merely a form of perception on the listener’s end, in which each tone, frequency, timbre, note, and rhythm was a separate pen in invisible hands, writing out the predetermined order that had been assigned to everything in our world. What is spoken came with energy, and from the energy matter was formed; the message of the speaker was the information, and from the information, matter was formed with specificity of order and arrangement as opposed to chaos. I followed the song, guided by Heira’s voice, and I called forth, by myself, a vast warm light which surrounded the island.

It was magic, and like other moments as such, it had to end. It was interrupted by noises.


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Fallorth’s Boundary

Helon and Ea started their trek early. When Ea woke up, Helon had two longcoats ready for them to wear. Clearly one was Helon’s size and the other would have been for Akroe. Helon took Akroe’s so Ea could take hers, and neither of them fit well.

Helon took Ea on a long journey that did not involve much talking. Unlike their previous trips, there were quite a few roundabouts. Helon stopped often to navigate herself. Past the harsh noon which made the longcoat even more uncomfortable, Helon caught her breath. She started talking.

This time the story was about a woman named Fallorth. She was not kidnapped into the wild. She was a mother of a wheelchair-bound girl kidnapped by Akroe. The mother ventured into the wilderness herself, and miraculously found her daughter, living in the wild with a disability and a strange man. Fallorth’s will to find her daughter was so strong that she learned to survive in the wilderness. It was only a matter of time before Fallorth discovered traces of human activity in the wild, which led her to both her daughter and Akroe. By the time Fallorth found Akroe, she was no longer an angry parent. Something had happened to her during her experience in the wild; something she never shared – even with Akroe. Fallorth did however demand her daughter’s release back into the city. She did not care if her daughter was the immune specimen that Akroe was searching for, and she had prepared something in exchange: knowledge about the wild that even Akroe had not known about.

In his shock that a family member would find their way into the wilderness, Akroe agreed to whatever Fallorth demanded. Fallorth put her daughter in school, and ventured out into the wilderness again. Before her passing, Akroe respected Fallorth as a mother. Before her death, Fallorth called Akroe “son”.

Helon stopped the story and stood still.

“This is Fallorth’s Boundary. She has no monuments, but marked out with her hard work something that would become a gift to humanity. You will see it once, twice at most in your life; and that would be the end.”

Ea could not believe her eyes. It seemed as if Helon was taking her back to the city, a part of their world she did not recognize. Yet she was certain; yes, those are buildings, pristine glass towers where there is no sign of decay nor invasion from the cancerous mass. She has learned not to ask questions in front of Helon; she’s replaced that with observing and intensive listening. This time, however, with the possibility of seeing her sister and Mar again, she could not hold it in.

“Helon, I thought the trek was too difficult, but either way… thank you.”

Helon simply shook her head.

They continued walking, and ended up on top of a cliff looking down towards a beautiful little corner of a city. No decay. The streets were home-like, with cafes lined up on the sides. Bicycles in a row on fine gray concrete. Nothing moved or lit up, but that didn’t matter in the cool afternoon sun.

“Ea, continue any further and we would be at the edge of our world.”

Realizing that they have been walking the opposite direction for this whole time, Ea could not hold it in once again. “But…Helon, the cancer started at the edge. If this is clean, why are we still crammed in the core?”

“Fallorth’s Hypothesis: cancer is not the fundamental threat. It is merely the result of unimaginable levels of high-energy radiation from the edge of our world. This place that you see in front of you is clean because the radiation has even killed all the cancerous mass that was once here. At some point in history, for some unknown reason, the level of background radiation started to escalate around our world. Right now, the dose is so strong that what you call clean is simply a complete lack of any sign of life, microbial or cancerous. With this radiation, even without the cancerous mass, the world would have needed to be concentrated in the central core as it is now in order to survive. This is why I was at Elronde’s building.”

Ea drew in a deep breath. She was not ready to have the conversation of why she was in Elronde’s building herself.

“Fallorth’s discovery doesn’t stop here. Think back to where we live, Ea, and compare that to this scenery in front of you. We are in a building that is essentially a bulge of cancerous mass, because all these cells act as a sponge that helps to shield us against this radiation. In fact, the entire cancerous mass which we call the wilderness is acting as a sponge to shield humanity at its core.

Back to Akroe’s Hypothesis, all of these cancer cells are simply extensions of lives of dogs, humans, other animals. We view them as victims who have been killed, but Fallorth saw them as those who have sacrificed themselves, to live on in a new form, a form which actually helps preserve the lives of multicellular organisms from radiation damage. Look around at the cancerous mass around you; look at all these deaths. No burials. For the sake of pushing humanity into a safe zone. The humans who refused to move away from the edge of the world would eventually catch the cancer, and join this protective cancerous mass. Those who fled to the core would receive the gift of its protection.

It does not stop there. Many cell-types have drawn up and incorporated heavy metals into their inner structure, utilizing a number of creative cellular mechanisms for shielding their nucleus and essential organelles from radiation. Over time, these cell types with fortified cellular and nuclear membranes took over the niche of the outermost layers of the world’s cancerous mass, as they are more likely to survive the high doses of radiation. In turn, they form a heavy-metal shielding layer protecting the inner, more vulnerable layers of cancer cells, which in turn hold us in their center.

Given humanity’s history, I am not surprised if both the intense radiation and heavy metals in the soil are human consequences on our world. Still. Despite this, nature has developed a mechanism to preserve our existence. That mechanism is a cyclic feedback, in which the result of the radiation, the cancer, protects us from the radiation and further cancer. In other words, what we have come to see as the greatest evil of nature, is trying to….”

Helon’s voice trailed off into silence.

Ea was silent, riding on Helon's back. With her hands, she reached out to hold the collar of Helon’s longcoat, and wrapped Helon further in. Helon retreated from the edge.


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The Phoenix

Hundreds, or perhaps thousands were slowly gathering around the strange sighting, all stopped still at a busy street corner, as a young man stood tall on a building. His hair was fire, a deep red flame, which paled in comparison to the glorious wings of fire on his back.

He never claimed to be human, and those glowing wings were certainly not anything the world has seen under Elronde.

Children were the first to join in, only out of curiosity, as the hundred flames bounced off their eyes, making them glitter against the cool gray sky. The air was a heavy silence constructed upon cold hues.

One by one, slowly, the thousands of watchers held out their hands towards the figure. Only to try it. To see if it worked for them too.

And when they did, a gentle fire lit within their palms.


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K’tai XI

The girl who had handed me the flower lowered her brows. She was listening for something deep within. Abruptly, she held her two arms up and led herself to levitate upwards towards the sky, calling out a thunderous female vocal that was as refined as her hair.

The island shook, and from its centre, where the lake once was, a sharp peak of turquoise started to rise. It appeared to be a solid mineral from which the sand was made of, and it began to rise from deep within the island – revealing its self to be a growing, gem-like mountain with clean-cut surfaces, whose reflection could not fully conceal the glass-like translucency and deep blue-greens within. The mountain, as it was becoming, grew larger and larger, as the song of Himre continued to call it towards the skies. As my eyes were still trying to grasp the powers of Himre as she created an entire rocky apex, I noticed something beneath me.

On the ground, where the golden blossoms once lay, deep-violet petals started growing. The turquoise mount in the centre glowed with greater clarity against the dark purple hues. The new flowers also had its own certain glassy intricacy, but within it held the depths of the night, which protected its young structure from being scorched by the sun. It was a hardy specimen against the cold, and the cool waters kept out its competition for its eventual triumph. Nourished by the deep muds of the oceans, it had drawn from the soft rest of nightfall and snowy dews to crown the island in an extravagance of violet.

I heard them. I heard the white figures, almost humming along, the songs of the dark ones, as the violet blossoms grew across the landscape, save for the central pillar of turquoise. Then they emerged.

The dark-clothed figures suddenly arrived at the scene, standing in a line against the ocean. Our group collectively walked towards them, exchanged touches on the cheeks and smiled. Their garments flickered, and all became the soft color of earthy dust. One of the dark-clothed figures jumped towards Welmtu in excitement. They laughed, at each other. He looked like a younger version of Welmtu.


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New Eve

Helon and Ea made the trip back, and the return journey seemed even more challenging than before. Ea tried her best to navigate with the sun over their heads, and she was certain that the sweat on Helon’s head was from having to re-route numerous times. The landscape was noticeably shifting more drastically than the interior parts of the wilderness. Greater rate of mutation, thus resulting in greater deaths and shifts in the landscape was consistent with Helon's theory.

Then it came. Night fell.

They had to make a stop at a decrepit building.

Helon sat down, breathing heavily beside Ea.

"Ea. Between multi-cellular organisms not being able to survive mutations better than unicellular mechanisms….and what Fallorth has uncovered about nature’s innate mechanism to keep us alive, you and I should not even exist if the science we hold are the only operating principles of our reality. I have a hypothesis of why Fallorth was so at peace with her life. She scientifically deduced that there was something out there, beyond the edge of our world, with some sort of good intentions for humanity. And that something was willing to give us a chance in the evolutionary pathway, and even design back-up mechanisms to preserve life when human activity threatens to kill humanity.

Yet I reject this. I don’t accept just “God”. If it is indeed a being of good-will, why is this protection method against radiation so painful and so cruel? What is happening to your sister has happened to me, and it has taken Santhia, Lanmis, Akroe, and Fallorth herself. It is not a mild journey that this disease forces upon you. Why is this supposed gift so harsh and punishing? Deep down, I know that humanity should already be thankful, because all of this cancer wouldn't need to happen if we didn't pollute the damn edge anyways. We were the ones who brought the cancer onto ourselves, and in a sense we should be happy that at least the resulting cancerous mass serves as a counter to our own atrocity. Yet if something out there has inputted this mechanism, I want to be a child one more time in my life and ask questions.

Why is each act of good-will also as sharp as a sword? Is good-will that kills still good-will? Why have this mercy if you don’t seem sincere about it? I don't know if there will ever be an answer, but this is one question I want answered before I see another patient fall victim to cancer. Before I myself. Fall dead."

Helon's watch broke the silence. It gave off a distinct click for midnight.

In Ea’s mind, she saw lightbulbs, pretty eyes, soft skin, firecrackers. On the children's book, everything was good. Ea's answered this question already before in her life, yet in order to function, Ea blocked the memories quickly from her mind.

"Helon. I have the answer. Ea quickly re-organized her thoughts in her mind to find another example.

"You say human beings were given a chance at life in this world, before some of us became this cancerous mass that is our ultimate form. Comparing the human and the cancerous mass, survivability aside, the initial state was optimal. What you describe is that every change, good-willed or not, also comes with a negative side. If every single change is a downhill change, it might mean that we are toys in a cruel experiment. Yet, if in this world there is a single change that is uphill, a single change which leads us to a more optimal state, it would also mean that what is out there never bothered to give us an optimal start. If in a beginning....a beginning we can't remember, we were created optimally in an optimal world, every repair mechanism would have to be as you observe today: they have to be accompanied by a downhill change. What if, Helon, the initial perfection is the cause of our despair?

Helon let out the breath she’s been holding. She closed her eyes and lost the strain in her brows. Dim starlight carved her face, and Ea was certain of it. Helon was asleep. Ea watched her, her every breath moving in and out of a human body, the quiet way her hair would slowly fall to the earth and change the pattern of light reflected off them. Helon laid still, and Ea wondered if the new Helon after awaking from this sleep would still like children's songs - or like them with even greater severity, and whether Helon would still be as passionate about finding a cure for Nieve. Yet for once, Nieve didn't worry her that much. She fell asleep beside Helon.


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Clear Water

The upper meetings of Elronde are conducted with the assistance of Udica, “the clear water”, a fermented drink that leaves no impact on the physical body yet dramatically lowers mental inhibitions of the consumers. While active, it locks a zeata into letting only the deepest feelings surface. The meetings are short and follow one rule.

Speak in tongues. Everything else is acceptable.

Though the ones who eventually blurt out their hatred or even schemes against Elronde are sent to the Great Circle, Elronde is not fishing for worship: in fact, he’s almost tired of being worshipped by humans. In upper meetings, he needs no respect. No lies.

Unknown to Mar, General R was the only elite who was not drugged at the meeting. The lack of Udica impairs his use of the language, yet his years of experience grant him more understanding than Mar will ever accomplish. Mar stood still amidst a mass-interrogation of Elronde himself.

Unnumbered monk: “Three days, the entire Southwest has fallen. That's 21 percent of our towers and nearly 30 percent of our contributing followers”

Elronde: “The Southwest was cult-ridden anyway.”

Unnumbered monk: “Yes, but the donations used to be able to flow from those cult leaders. Ryance is not so easy to control, and you didn't kill him when you should have.”

Elronde: “I think him surviving the plane attack is commendable. I’ll give him another chance. This time it’s different; he knows my powers now. He remembers being subdued, he remembers being locked and cast in his place.”

Unnumbered monk: “And that's why he's out to take us down. Revenge.”

Unnumbered monk: “It's the powers. He's taken in the prayers. He's taken in prayers that would have gone to you. Why did you lock him in a statue of a god?”

Elronde: “It was our best bet. I was keeping him as tribute to Kyfrea, and if he burst out into public eyes from anywhere else it would be a more difficult story to spin.”

Unnumbered monk: “And now, that simply adds to his claim of divinity.”

Elronde: “And so, let's see how much divinity he's got in him to back it up.”

Unnumbered monk: “Last time, he almost killed you. We saved you.”

Elronde: “You know you did not save me. You know very well Who did.”

Unnumbered monk: “He's going to use Them too. He's going to learn your Ways.”

Elronde: “Do you think it's easy, my Ways? Do you think these Unspoken simply come and give you whatever you want, any time you want? Ryance will have to work his way up.”

Unnumbered monk: “He's already up there. He's overturned some of your closest in less than three days. Three days.”

Elronde: “And so let's watch. The world has 87 left. Let’s see what he can do.”

Unnumbered monk: “You want him to succeed don’t you. Secretly, you don't even care.”

Elronde: “I don't care; you are all correct. It amuses me, to see a young one think he can be God, capture the entirety of this world under his divine powers, and fall to his own devastation in less than three months as I rise above his flames. To the entire world, I will conquer Ryance, and show them what is true divinity.”

Unnumbered monk: “Reports have just come in. It is unexplainable. The Northwest has fallen. Three hundred towers and counting.”

Elronde: “I don’t care. The ending is mine. Continue, follow, obey, and I will make you ryance, and not just ryance, but ryance-slayers.”


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K’tai XII

In a split moment, their garments changed colors again. Glyshe was now dressed in blue and Himre in silver. They held their hands out, and they were both holding an insignia of sorts. The delicate crafting of the artefacts was beyond anything I had ever seen. Glyshe and Himre exchanged the two insignia, and led their respective packs in opposite directions. That was when I became aware of myself; I looked down, and I was still dressed in my hospital gown. The figures waved at me, and each of them smiled.

I realized I was being left where I was, but I did not feel uneasy. I looked back; there were four new figures behind me. I recognized one of them. She was shy, hiding behind one of the figures, but I remember her. With an elderly lady, she was the one who had transported me into this realm.

One of them spoke. The language, I knew.

“The world will change for a while.”

It did not just change but it disintegrated without a sound. Fading, into a brand new reality that will forever stay in my mind.

Giants, men and women, thousands of them, interlocking and soaring in the heights right in front of my eyes. It was as if they were a galactic aircraft composed of their organic selves, all in unison, and I, and many other of the lesser titans were being surrounded and carried within it. Each and every one of the titans were beautifully constructed, unique, though you could see some family lineage running through. All were in their prime, and their features were astounding.

Outside of this organic aircraft I was in, I saw a world of towering trees, upon which hundreds of never before seen creatures and plants were growing. Nothing was just green, and bark was never just bark, but was also the ground to entire ecosystems in their own. When I looked at them, I could almost taste the fruits and hear the voices of the creatures, and when I did, it took my sight further away into the distance. The tapestry began to run across the landscape.

There was a centre to their world, a guarded place of old. From within, the ecosystem was at its prime and kept away from any human contact. The waters and seeds here changed your physical condition, but deep inside this guarded place were fruits that changed something deeper within; your essence, your identity. Though guarded, almost as if by fire, the guarded place is nonetheless connected by the soil, air, waters, and many different routes nature interconnects itself. From it, new life and rejuvenation flows, altering and rejuvenating the landscape around the world as if it were a chessboard.

These titans were a people running from war. They are a hunted tribe, and they are enemies to a grand city full of modified, equally titanic half-human half-beasts, ones that transformed, ones that asserted their divinity by human efforts. The city-dwellers were after this tribe, for the tribe’s untouched genetic material.

The tribe is traveling across the land, restoring the tapestry, observing the chessboard effect from the world’s guarded ancient core, where all beings used to exist, in order to heal the ecosystem from its human touches. The children use a simplified version of the restoration as a game, a pastime. Hidden within the structure of the fully matured titans, the children create sub-worlds in which they decide on an end goal, a victory condition, and set off different parties on a journey of practicing the art of voicing realities. Winning or losing was not the goal, and this was why I heard Heira’s party join in the song, that song which caused the violet flowers from the dark figures to blossom and flourish.

Those children are in a new game, and I was alone in a strange world. I began to feel like I was about to collapse, especially realizing that I have been floating within the aircraft of titans, thousands of feet up in the sky. When I raised my head to gasp for air, I was back. On the island. I was not alone. The four new figures were with me.


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The Wild: Finale
or, "Dance of Mars and Uranus"

Morning came. Helon woke Ea up. She looked straight into Ea’s eyes, and started speaking.

“Ea, after last night, I am okay with telling you a few things. I have some confessions to make. Back in Elronde’s tower, I was watching the statue as I wanted to take my mind off my imminent death. You were a few steps away from me, collapsed onto the ground near the stairs. I was surrounded by panicking people who choked and fell unconscious before me, and I wanted to go without thinking about how I would go. I used all the life left within me to stare at the statue, because something biological about it attracted me. I wanted to die thinking about biology. And not about my failures. I was closer to solving Elronde's mystery, yet before I made any actual progress I was going to be burned to death in a collapsing building.

The statue then burst open, the bronze almost melting away. A man, or a boy, with dark long hair almost seemed to fly out of the statue. He parted the fires, literally, and walked out - completely untouched by the flames and the smoke. This was when another barely-clothed, tall and hairy man jumped from nowhere over my head and made a soft landing. That landing was not human. The young boy disappeared behind an entire wall of fire that suddenly flashed from nowhere. The tall man then turned his attention towards me.

He held my hand. I looked at you on the ground and knew you still had life in you. I pointed at you. He pulled your body and mine onto his back, and his broadness provided more than enough space to carry the two of us.

What happened next was also not human. He flew. When you and I first got on his back, he was waiting for something, and I did not know what it was. All I knew was that it would be alright to die with a new distraction, this new biological specimen in front of me. He waited for an upward explosion beneath us, and before the flames reached his legs we escalated into the sky. First, a straight vertical gain of height, perhaps to avoid the eyes of the world. Given my knowledge, I do not know how we were able to breathe at the height we reached; the atmosphere did not seem too thin, and even with all my fright I was able to breathe smoothly. After a short while, his destination became clear. He wanted to take us towards the edge of the world. I was not sure if he was going to use us for some experiment in the wild, and this man was clearly in absolute physical prime. I could not defend us against him if he were to exploit us. Yet if he and I were to battle it out, I’d much prefer it to be in the wild. My home territory.

He landed. We were in the wilderness, far away from any trace of human activity. Except for me and Akroe’s. He signalled for me to get off his back with you. I contemplated if he knew that he was putting us very close to me and Doc’s lab, but he didn’t seem to. I stood between your body and his, declaring my property. “We’re good here.” I said to him. And he actually left. Perhaps it was my fear of him pursuing any of his plans further, but I do regret saying that to him. I wonder what he would’ve wanted with us. And what was he. It doesn’t matter now.

The next thing I did was I broke your legs. I needed an apprentice, and I, with the help of someone else, did save your life. Regardless of whether you feel like you owe me, I wanted you to first and foremost, be of zero harm to me, and secondly, be thankful that I am nursing you back to health.

It was something I never wanted to tell you.” Helon smiled. “But I want to now. I think life has been good to me. I could let you live under the illusion that the building collapse broke your legs, and you would simply love me as your nurse. However, I broke them intentionally.

You will be able to walk in two days. I don’t need you as my apprentice any more. After what we’ve talked about last night, I can rest. I will accept it if you wish to retaliate against me for the rest of your life. I don’t know what the value of this conversation is, but this is the truth, Ea.” Helon stopped.

Ea looked right at her face. “Helon. I was once told by a really good friend, a friend that I miss very much, something that I will now say to you. I know you were watching over me the whole time, and you broke my legs knowing you could fix them. If anything worse happened to me, you would not allow it, not just because you want me as an apprentice, but because you are Helon. A woman who has lived the majority of her life in solitude, hoping to solve the mystery of the wild.”

Helon did not move. After a long time, she spoke.


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Tea of the Warlords

“He doesn’t go by a name. Each calls him something different, but he is making it known that he is whom Elronde worships.”

“Can we trust those videos?” The Patriarch asked.

“A few of our own have seen it with their eyes. The flames took the form of three flying dragons in the air, each as large as a dozen firetrucks lined together, and he commanded them.”

“What do you say the chances are, Falcon…that we’ve missed Kyfrea’s entrance?”

“This man is not Kyfrea. He’s too intent on taking down Elronde.”

“He’s not dropping the building narrative?”

“There were sightings of him emerging from the building. He didn’t make a show of it, like Elronde did. But he is stating that’s exactly what happened.”

“What is the rundown on his current assets?”

“Not a large following, but he’s taken over 40% of Elronde’s inner elite. According to General R, the man is not in it for the money, though he has taken close to a third of all Elronde’s towers as of this morning.”

“A new returnee of fire. If he did use to collaborate with Elronde, that would mean Elronde located him. Elronde convinced him. And Elronde was able to keep him from showing his powers. At the same time, Elronde didn’t use him publicly for personal gain. Three months into the countdown…this unknown variable isn’t the worst that can happen; if we can confirm that the phoenix is as naive as he looks, we will use him.”

“And if he’s not, we are ready to find out.”

“Androids well planted into the followers of the Phoenix?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting, he still doesn’t know.”

“Unlike Elronde, he seems oblivious.”

“That makes Marokso even more useful. Launch the plan, Falcon.”


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K’tai XIII

“What is your name?” one of the four new figures asked me. The little girl was still hiding among them in the back.

“K'tai.”

“I know why you do not question.” She said. She was a lady my mother’s age, but much more radiant. There were two other young ladies. Their ages seemed distorted, but at least I had a grasp. They were also around my height.

“My name is Artha, Northwestern District 117.” At the sound of that, I was in utter disbelief.

“We are from the same world. You do not question what you see, because you perceive all this to be a dreamy afterlife. You are alive. Minemin here is of this realm, the real world, within which our world is but an old, radioactive war shelter hidden in the seas. You, and us as well, would have died in the real world if it were not for the sub-worlds they have created for us with their voices. It is not that their world is toxic, but the exact opposite: we have evolved biologically in order to adapt to the deteriorated environment that we were forced in, and while we gained increased survivability in the new environment, the price was losing what we originally held in our genes. These…are humans just like us, or, I could say that we have descended from their lines. This reality was only made known to us when the first of us was taken up to realm through Minemin. Her genetic condition has allowed her and her grandmother to blend into our world, and for decades, they have transported select individuals into realm, in accordance to the will of –”

At the sound of the last word I could not decipher, a million voices, all belonging to this world, including my own, seemed to call out at the same time.

If however, I fell silent, and let the world’s voices calm themselves, I could hear and gain access to what the word represented:

the creator of Realm.


Helon Soliloquy



“I am not unlike you.
Someone gave me this life.
Someone is trying to protect it.
Someone gave their best for me.
And that Someone, now, gave me a friend.”


Flashback:
Initiation of Rakorth

[Location: Church of Flames.]

The thin man held tremendous strength within him, but in front of this elder, he was completely paralyzed from the neck down – yet standing straight.

“You can call me Elronde. That name will persist. That name will become eternal, and I will show you one day that my name is divine.” He smiled.

“So how did what I just witnessed come to be?” Rakorth asked.

Sick of repeating his tale, Elronde started. “I wish I had what they were capable of. Intuitively, they passed on information to those who visited Realm. But it was not just them. It was also the Cradle of Myths, from which Kyfrea is but a small figure. She always had it in her, the will to experiment, to mutate, to create superhumans. And of course, like the ones from the Cradle of Myths, she had the drive to be God. For now, I can only slowly reveal to you the world as it is. She was the sixty-first daughter of a warring multi-national collective; here mother gave birth to nearly a two hundred siblings. While Kyfrea distanced herself from the war, her family suffered tremendous losses leading to the guilt-suicide of her highly-ranked mother. Before the mother killed herself, she struck a deal with her daughter: to keep each and every one of the 128 still-young siblings away from the terrible torment of the Kie family, and she will grant Kyfrea ownership over all of the children. Kyfrea built the shelter near a known radioactive site, with hopes of breeding an entire population of a mutated specimen.

“If Kyfrea is such a character, what about the two females who took you? Don’t you think they took you out of good will - could we turn to them?”

“Good will it was. But the grandmother-granddaughter duo were simply locked into their zeata, the Uncreated Zeata which created Realm and the extraordinary space it resides in. That Zeata has complete control over people who submit. And hence, in pursuit of freedom and our own divinity, the Cradle of Myths was born.”

“Their zeata was a living entity who created Realm itself? And you are certain of that. Where is this zeata now?”

“Realm is very much like our world; it is but the collection of energy in organized sets. The information and energy of realm came from this plural Zeata, for which I have searched far and wide to gather their unholy names. And upon hearing these names, you will understand truth, and my truth: of why I do not see the little girl and her grandmother as acting out of good will, but acting out of being perfectly controlled. The Zeata are still around in this world, yet perhaps it is their existence that is even more alarming than their absence. I speak to you, now, the six unholy names of the Uncreated Zeata:

 苦源 Whoever creates is god; there is no arguing against that. But whether I choose to accept them as my god is another tale. They are the uncreated creator, and look at the world with all the suffering which they have created for you as well.   謀崇 Their creation is not a gift of life; they demand love in return, in a trade you cannot refuse to partake.   血政 Not just love, but also absolute submission; their promise is to kill all who disobey.  沌軆 Their truth to us is full of inconsistency, and to this day none is sure if there is one creator or many or an entire race above our heads.   陷關 What we do know is that they are above us in a realm you cannot reach, a heaven that they decide if you can enter.  壟天 Instead, you are created here in this vile world while they are enjoying the perfect creation they are capable of. In all these scenarios we have no say in, this is the only thing I will say: why create us?

The answer to that last question I know, and it is the great secret of life: for us to rebel, make our own way, our own truths, our own divinity.”

“Is that not what Kyfrea did, create us in a sub-world so she could reign as a goddess?”

“And why should the Uncreated Zeata be the only ones who are entitled to that level of existence? Those are their names, the six unholy names, and not even that should be barred from our freedom.”

Synopsis IV

[ Wilderness: Helon-Ea Line ]

Ea struggles to accept her fate of being trapped in the wilderness with broken legs; Helon convinces her that the only way to actually help Nieve is to recover and survive in the wilderness, and begins a journey to help Ea understand the wild. Ea discovers that the wild is not a singular entity, but rather an ever-shifting collective of countless types of cancer cells and colonies in competition with one another. She asks Helon how to get rid of all the cancer types in one go. Helon begins leading Ea through a series of memorial sites in the wild – to show Ea the shared traits that are exhibited across all cancer cell types.

At Santhia's grave, Ea learns of Santhia's extensive research. Deducing that cancer cells in the wilderness - being outside of a host - engage in a predator-prey relationship in order to survive, Santhia documented a massively complex food web which shows that a predator-cell type exists to attack Nieve's tumor. However, at Lanmis' grave, Ea learns that Santhia's food-web does not work in a human environment. Lanmis' research suggests that cancer cells behave differently in a human environment versus in the wild, which explains why Helon's prior assessment of Nieve's condition was not optimistic. Further, Lanmis' research reveals that cancer cells no longer identify as part of the larger organism, but simply see the larger organism as an "environment" with resources which they could exploit. The next day, Helon reveals her pet project: the Elixir, a virus which will insert the apoptosis sequence in cancer cells and also propagate itself through the population leaving healthy cells unharmed. Doctor Akroe's body, now a small "garden" of various cancer cell colonies, is shown to Ea in a hidden glass casket. His grave illustrates that the survival of multi-cellular organism requires each and every single cell within to accept planned death whenever the integrity of the larger organism is threatened, while both the “garden” and the wilderness at large are not products of mere malfunction but each cell seeking to maximize its own survival.

Recovering from a sad day, Helon then leads Ea into the wild, playing a game of destroying entire mountainous colonies of cancer cells by throwing a predator cell-type into them. Helon, through her game, discovered that cancer cells are capable of forming superorganisms which act like a multi-cellular organism - yet retain the option to split ways and return to unicellular form whenever advantageous. She recalls Akroe's primary finding while he was alive: that cancer is not a disease of mutation, but rather incompatibility between mutated and non-mutated cells within a multi-cellular organism, which effectively means unicellular organisms are immune to cancer. Understanding their own fragility as multi-cellular organisms, Helon and Ea celebrate being alive.

Helon's last demonstration took them to a far-away location, where the landscape shifted quickly with colonies dying and mutating swiftly. Seeing the pristine, empty city before them, Ea thanks Helon for taking her back to the City; Helon replies that they've been walking in the opposite direction toward the edge of the world. Surprised, Ea questions why the edge of the world is free of all cancer cells when CTVT started near the edge. Helon then reveals Fallorth's finding: CTVT, known to society as the result of high background radiation near the edges of their world, is not the main threat. The background radiation near the edge of the world has intensified exponentially and started to eliminate any sign of life in the periphery - including all cancer cells in the vicinity. Helon asks Ea to compare the clean state of cityscape before them to their hideout in the wilderness - which is completely engulfed by a facade of cancer cells. She tells Ea that Fallorth has discovered the wilderness to be nature's cyclical, protective mechanism, one that is serving to shield humanity from the radiation near the edge. Furthermore, certain cells-types have absorbed heavy metals in the soil to form a strengthened protective layer to shield the weaker cancer-cell types near the centre, all of which hold the most fragile organisms - the multi-cellular organisms, including humanity, in the core.

Helon explains that Fallorth died peacefully - because Fallorth believed there was an external source seeking to protect humanity in the formation of both multi-cellular life and this back-up protection mechanism. Yet Helon shares her personal struggle of why she does not believe any of this to be benevolent, as the protective mechanism of cancer is a cruel and horrible disease. Thinking back to her sister’s case, Ea tells Helon that she has struggled with the same question and considered the two potential solutions. At the sound of a second possibility, Helon rests.

[ Realm: K’tai Line ]

Waking up in an ocean, K’tai encounters strange figures dressed in white, beings who are able to alter the landscapes with their songs. Though not understanding their words, listening to their songs alone revealed to K’tai their identities. The first, Heira, called forth a sunset that changed the waters to a deep red.

Another set of figures with similar powers, but dressed in dark fabric, appear. Their first called forth nightfall.

To help K’tai and her team escape from complete darkness, Leite in white called forth finned creatures from beneath the sea to carry them towards the sun in the horizon. They arrive at an island, only to meet a dark figure calling forth snow to engulf them.

Glyshe counters with a song of warmth, melting the snow into a clear blue lake. Next, Elbenshu called forth winged creatures, each holding golden blossoms in their beaks, to scatter a storm of petals over the island. Within the blossoms held the seeds, and K’tai was invited to taste it. The moment K’tai eats a seed, she gains the ability to trace the seed's history; this tapestry of knowledge of cause-and-effect allowed her to visualize the beginning of the seed - even seeing her earlier self when she first emerged from the sea - in her own vision.

This was when a giant tsunami struck from the opposing team. Welmtu called for a significant storm to counter it; he seemed to have overcome the tsunami, but the sea mud from underneath covered the island. Heira taught K’tai the Word of Realm: using energy and order as two key elements to each material existence, and voicing out the exact order with sound energy. K’tai learned her power: light. Suddenly, Himre on their team raises an entire gem-like mountain out of the ground, hoping to re-boot the island.

Yet it was too late; violet blossoms appeared everywhere, accompanying the voices of the dark figures in the distance. K'tai caught her own team of white figures humming along the victory song of the opponents. The two parties joined, embraced each other, and the colors of their clothes all turned to the same color of dust. The clothes changed colors again to re-arrange the beings in new teams; K'tai could feel she was being left alone.

The world changes right in front of her eyes, as K'tai sees that she was high up in the air, carried within hundreds of titanic beings interlocking to form something like an aircraft. Beneath her was a world of incredible natural diversity, and, in just seeing "realm", she could follow the tapestry and gain knowledge about their world. She realized all the natural beauty of their world stemmed from an ancient center that is rejuvenating the world, while a significant portion of their world is counteracting those efforts through their own modification of the ecosystem, including genetic modification. The tribe of titans K'tai is traveling with is running from the genetically-modified tribe, being hunted for their untouched genetic material. As they run, they seek to assist in recovering the world back to its natural state through the tapestry effect and the words of realm. The children use the words of realm in a game to emulate and practice rejuvenating nature.

In the end, K'tai meets the little girl, Minemin, who transported her to realm. As well, she meets people from her own world, who have also been transported by Minemin, but stayed in realm unlike Elronde, Patriarch, and Nieve. K'tai learns that as a newcomer to realm, the children's game helped sustain her existence as it takes time for people from their world to adapt to realm. Their world has been so polluted in comparison to realm that they have evolved to adapt to the pollution, and the price was losing the original genetic material which made them suited for living in realm. K'tai, having been experiencing realm as a dreamy afterlife, begins to realize that Minemin and her grandmother have been following instructions from a specific entity to bring people from her world to realm.

[ Shelter Core: Mar Line ]

Believing Ea to be dead – or at least captured by Elronde, Mar writes a fictional biography for Nieve and arranges a meeting for all the recruits in their operation. He locks and gases the meeting hall, scattering every single recruit in cryo. After analyzing Elronde and the Patriarch’s zeata, he choose to align with the Patriarch, a process which goes exceedingly well as he reveals himself to be the designer of the androids (forming the basis of the Patriarch’s operations). For the first time, the Patriarch is revealed in front of Mar, yet in the form of an android designed by Mar. In an attempt to hack the Patriarch’s zeata, Mar claims that Elronde has killed Nieve and destroyed his co-leader status. He expresses that he not only wishes to kill Elronde but replace Elronde. The Patriarch laughs, but promises to take Mar deep into Elronde’s inner circles through one of the generals, who is deeply-planted within Elronde's operations.

As the world becomes divided under Elronde’s manipulation of events, Mar further witnesses Elronde’s powers as Elronde convinces human beings to be willingly thrown into a giant concrete mixer. General R, who works as a spy for the Patriarch in Elronde’s inner elite, tells Mar that Elronde genuinely believes that reincarnation of his grandfather and the human-sacrifice victims will happen in the concrete mixer – as all living things in the world are also the slow recombination of matter - given sufficient energy and time. Furthermore, General R reveals to Mar that Elronde also believes himself to be of the immortal, and will live on in “The Cradle of Myths”. Mar asks General R on his assessment of the truth. Recalling a conversation of Elronde, General R responds with “Hope was never meant for humans.” At the end of the meeting, Mar struggles to hack deeper into the Patriarch’s operations, though his perceptions on the Patriarch change to growing respect as the Patriarch has not requested to chip Mar or make him a semi-droid for easy monitoring.

Meanwhile, a mysterious figure, “Phoenix”, displays immense powers of fire. The Patriarch discusses with Falcon that the figure may have been someone named Kyfrea, but drops the idea. Given that the Phoenix appears oblivious to the android spies they’ve planted in his operation, the Patriarch asks Falcon to launch the next steps of their plan.

Elronde’s inner elites discuss the loss of a returnee they’ve captured previously, who escaped in the church-tower collapse. Despite losing significant assets and followers to the new returnee in a matter of days, Elronde asserts that the ultimate victory is his.

In a flashback conversation, Elronde uses his powers to hold a young man named Rakorth still, and tells Rakorth what he learned from his stay at realm: Minemin and her grandmother are native to realm, which is only part of the real world. The other part, which Elronde calls the “Cradle of Myths”, is home to Kyfrea, a powerful figure who used her 128 younger siblings for mutation experiments in a hidden radioactive war-shelter under the sea. Elronde does not hide the fact that the war-shelter is their current world that they are trapped in.

In hopes of finding a way out, Rakorth asks Elronde whether Minemin and her grandmother can help. Elronde responds by saying that the pair is only locked into their zeata, an uncreated zeata which has created the actual world: Realm, Cradle of Myths, which of course includes the undersea shelter. Elronde discusses the six unholy names of the uncreated zeata, which reminds a young General R of what Kyfrea has done to them. Elronde defends Kyfrea, stating that the uncreated zeata should not be the only ones who can reach that level of existence.


Upcoming Release:


Ea and Nieve strategize their return to the core, to a new world in which Elronde has subdued the other two returnees. In a new world where androids have been blamed for a colossal attack on global peace, Mar is now loyal to the Patriarch – whose word from Realm has yet to ever manifest.

Ryance, at the height of his powers as the returnee of fire, is set to strike Elronde off his throne by his raw power alone. K’tai, awakening as the returnee of light, faces the choice of staying in realm and assisting Minemin’s tribe in recovering the natural ecosystem while defending against Kyfrea’s tribe, the “Cradle of Myths” – or, returning to her world as the next arrival at the height of her powers.

In the mean time, the Patriarch brushes all these concerns aside, revealing to Mar an imminent reality that will make Mar willingly submit into a new course of action under the Patriarch’s order.