Aitios

Aitios

It 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.


“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 of an androgynous face, but armoured and armed with two giant steel sickles on its back. It sits in a temple in an alleyway where motorcycles speed by. The ground is littered with cigarette buds. 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 in 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 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.


"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.




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 it 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 defence.”

“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 colony 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.”


“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 in the centre, 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, greying, 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 Radelbert’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 are finished the puzzle. Less than 0.0002% of those who start the first level of the Puzzle reach 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 universe. 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 the earth’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 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 to. 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 on 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 in the building; the elevator trip 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 outside. Somehow, Case was able to see and drive. It was the first time I had seen a man drive.

None of us talked. 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 in front of 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 the 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 are really intent on simply improving the S-file? That is an enormously complex task.”

Case nodded. “I believe there is a perfect code out there, and 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 the front. 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.”


“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 of 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.


"Mercury · 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 temples 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 temple; we have prepared a temple to serve and worship you, long before your arrival.”

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

I led him to the closest temple, as our teachings dictated. It was the Temple 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-temple. 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 outside 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 temple. 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-temple 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 ocean.

“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 Temple.”

“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-temple. 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 temple 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-temple. “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.”


"Venus"

In my dream I could walk; but I know 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, slowly I saw a river of silver. It did not look like water, but flowing silver, running freely and splashing. Upstream of the river, eventually, was a hole where 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 new born 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.


"Saturn · 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 a collective effort? Zero. Camaraderie and love can fundraise, but it is war, business, and accentuated hatred that 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 defence. 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 for 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.”


"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 woman, 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 temple in District 116. She said she has the tower ready for us. She said the tower currently named “Puritan” would become our fourth Temple 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 one be of the most freakish face-swaps I have seen, the center of his face was hollowed out, and 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 temple. 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.


"Earth · Pluto"

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 skilfully 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 back 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, and the old man holds out his own arm forward in return. Suddenly, the old man’s eyes are fixated into the distance, gasping out of delight. The auras and fluttering glows in the darkness almost overwhelm the woman, and she succumbs to this new celestial world enfolding 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 lay 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 which 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$ZZZZZOOOOOOZI:~.,:=+IIIII77777777777777777777$ "


All 19600 Characters, in 140 Segments.

X appears once.




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 her back, 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.”


“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.


“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 centre 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 Ktai"

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 women 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 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 Ktai in a long time. When that new jobs 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.



Ktai's Mother, 452-486




"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 Ktai 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 to 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 Ktai is still my daughter.
I will take care of Ktai 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 worse. 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”




"Ktai: The Conference Call"

Sometime into the future, Ktai 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, Ktai lies still on her bed.




Ktai's Father, 450-486




"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. Ktai, 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, Continued"

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 Ktai, 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 Ktai's throat to let the pulp slide in.

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


Ktai'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




"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 tumours 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 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. Transcript of 1989 Case of Junko Furata)

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 chicker 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 on 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 go 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 were 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 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.




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. He 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 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.




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 of 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. 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.”




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.




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 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 does 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 straightforward, 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 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. In midst of 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 I"

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 centre, 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 Nieves 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.



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 being 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 has 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.




“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 a 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 over the long-term, their power is best concealed. In other words, anyone who joins this vicinity 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 me and Nieve has 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 New Age 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 Temple 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 ride above 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 that 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 anytime, 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.”




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, by her choice. 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 atheists – there are only those who think they are atheists. Because atheists are so easily controlled.” Mar winks.

“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. 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 restore 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 synaethesia 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 a 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?”




“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, carefree 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.”
*   *   *


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