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The final fallacy: Nalt, Suppression, and the Unreliable Narrator.

TL;DR: The fallacy Kvothe calls Nalt is the fallacy of suppressed evidence. Suppression of evidence is a recurring theme in the series. Kvothe is an unreliable narrator who suppresses relevant information in the retelling of his life story.
Suppression of evidence is a major theme in the series
Two of the biggest questions in the series are who are the Chandrian (or why do the Chandrian) and where are the Amyr. Kvothe searches the archives for these answers and concludes during a conversation with Maer Alveron that the Amyr themselves are suppressing evidence about their own existence.
“I found the same thing at the University,” I said. “It seemed as if someone had removed information about the Amyr from the Archives there. Not everything, of course. But there were scarce few solid details.”
I could see the Maer’s own conclusions sparking to life behind his clever grey eyes. “And who would do such a thing?” he prompted.
“Who would have better reason than the Amyr themselves?” I said. “Which means they are still around, somewhere.”
Similarly, information about the Chandrian is being suppressed.
More important, one of the few things I knew about the Chandrian was that they worked to viciously repress any knowledge of their own existence. They’d killed my troupe because my father had been writing a song about them. In Trebon they’d destroyed an entire wedding party because some of the guests had seen pictures of them on a piece of ancient pottery.
Given these facts, talking about the Chandrian didn’t seem like the wisest course of action.
So I did my own searching. After days, I abandoned hope of finding anything so helpful as a book about the Chandrian, or even anything so substantial as a monograph. Still, I read on, hoping to find a scrap of truth hidden somewhere. A single fact. A hint. Anything.
Lorren makes an effort to suppress Kvothe’s curiosity about the Amyr.
“I am not accusing you of engaging in boyish fancy. I am advising you to avoid the appearance of boyish fancy.” He gave me a level look, his face as calm as always.
And
Lorren brought out a pen and drew a series of hashes through my single line of writing in the ledger book. “I have a great respect for curiosity,” he said. “But others do not think as I do.
So not only does Lorren stymie Kvothe’s search, he warns against further inquiry and crosses out the evidence that shows Kvothe made the search in the first place. This is suppression, not just of questions, but of evidence that the inquiry ever existed.
Kvothe glosses over his trial in Imre and his shipwreck. This may be evidence that as a narrator he is suppressing relevant information. These events are clearly missing. Why? Are they just unimportant or are they inconsistent with the argument Kvothe is making about himself and thus intentionally left out by Kvothe. Chronicler thinks the trial at Imre is relevant. When he pushes Kvothe to include it, Kvothe teaches him a lesson by telling the Waystone crowd the story of the Chronicler. When Kvothe skips over the shipwreck and it’s aftermath, Chronicler doesn’t push again. Ultimately, it would take more information to be certain if these events are relevant, but at 25:55 in an interview, Pat has hinted that readers should be asking why certain events are left out. Special thanks to u/BioLogin whose work makes media references easily accessible.
People assume that I wrote it and then I took it out, and it is simply not true. I didn’t write it. So then why did I put something like that in, implying that there was a story and then not giving you the story therefore making you want something you are not gonna get? Why would I do that? And that’s a good question.
This supports the notion that parts of the story are left out to a purpose, or in other words, intentionally suppressed.
If entire events are suppressed, perhaps there are more minute details that are suppressed. Inconsistency may be an indicator of a suppressed detail. One inconsistency is Kvothe amazing memory and his purported inability to recall the the formal name of the ninth prime fallacy during his first admissions interview.
Kvothe claims to have an excellent memory.
“Ben’s training has given me a memory so clean and sharp I have to be careful not to cut myself sometimes.”
And when attending Hemme’s class
I was a jangling mass of excitement as I watched other students slowly trickle into the room. Everyone was older than me by at least a few years. I reviewed the first thirty sympathetic bindings in my head as the theater filled with anxious students. There were perhaps fifty of us in all, making the room about three-quarters full. Some had pen and paper with hardbacks to write on. Some had wax tablets. I hadn’t brought anything, but that didn’t worry me overmuch. I’ve always had an excellent memory.
His memory is so great that it provides the basis for all his other skills.
I have a good memory. That, perhaps more than anything else, sits in the center of what I am. It is the talent upon which so many of my other skills depend.
He also memorized Caesura’s Atas twice as quickly as the best estimate of the Adem.
So why, when asked about the nine prime fallacies, does Kvothe’s memory fail him? He can rattle of the first eight and he specifically tells us that he’s just read Rhetoric and Logic.
“Simplification. Generalization. Circularity. Reduction. Analogy. False causality. Semantism. Irrelevancy….” I paused, not being able to remember the formal name of the last one. Ben and I had called it Nalt, after Emperor Nalto. It galled me, not being able to recall its real name, as I had read it in Rhetoric and Logic just a few days ago.
Did Kvothe actually forget its name or is he suppressing the name of the fallacy to a purpose? What motivation could Kvothe have for suppressing the name of a fallacy? The name of that fallacy must be important and extremely telling if it’s something Kvothe is leaving out. Additionally, recall that Kvothe both hates the book Rhetoric and Logic, the subject of Logic and the Master Rhetorician, Hemme. His hatred of Hemme is well explained, but the rest seems...unreasonable.
Eight prime fallacies briefly explained
The fallacies Kvothe names can be sorted into three general categories: fallacies of presumption, fallacies of relevance, and fallacies of ambiguity. These are not definitive categories, merely a tool logicians use to help think about fallacies. Often reasoning that looks similar will fall into different categories based on the specific information contained in the premises. These are amateur, but researched, guesses.
Presumption fallacies
Simplification, generalization, circularity, false causality, and (maybe) analogy are presumption fallacies. Common names for these fallacy might be as follows:
Generalization is Accident). Simplification is converse accident . Circularity is begging the question or curricular reasoning . False cause is non causa, pro causa. Analogy is weak analogy .
Ambiguity fallacies
Reduction and semantism are ambiguity fallacies. Reduction is causal reductionism. Assuming semantism refers to language use/word choice, it includes the fallacies logicians call equivocation, amphiboly, accent, composition, and division .
Relevancy fallacies
Irrelevancy equates to the entire category of relevance fallacies. This includes many of the most familiar fallacies: appeal to authority/money/emotion/force, straw man, ad hominem and more.
After naming eight of the prime fallacies, Kvothe cannot recall the name for the ninth.
Going by the fact that so many presumption fallacies are listed as prime fallacies and others categories are not broken down into specifically named fallacies, Nalt could be an additional fallacy of presumption. Also, there is no other term among the prime fallacies that seems to incorporate the scope of presumption fallacies the same way irrelevancy and semantism encorporate the categories of relevancy and ambiguity.
Browsing the internet for fallacies of presumption, one stands out as especially fitting given the themes and events of the series: The Fallacy of Suppressed Evidence, or as u/HHBP put it, Suppression.
The finally fallacy is Suppression
The fallacy of suppressed of evidence occurs when true and relevant information is left out for any reason. The audience presumes it has been give all the relevant information and fallaciously draws conclusions.
Kvothe has an excellent memeory. What if Kvothe just doesn’t want to say the name of the final fallacy because it’s the fallacy he is committing while giving his interview with Chronicler. Excluding its name is both a tool for Kvothe to conceal his commission and a tool for Pat to alert readers of its importance. It would be extremely clever and satisfying for Pat to have Kvothe suppress the name the supression fallacy in order to suppress the fact that Kvothe is suppressing evidence. But why would Kvothe and Ben call that fallacy Nalt?
One of the the things we know about Emperor Nalto is that he is “history’s favorite whipping boy.” A whipping boy has a historical literal meaning, but figuratively it means that someone who is blamed for the faults of others.
Assuming a relationship between calling the fallacy Nalt and Kvothe’s observation that Nalto is history’s favorite whipping boy could be the basis of any number of fallacies. More context is needed to support the idea that Nalt indicates suppressed evidence.
Recall that Kvothe and Sim have a bet on whether the Amyr are part of the church or part of the Aturn bureaucracy. Both Kvothe and Wil find the order that abolishes the Amyr, the Alpura Prolycia Amyr. Wil supports his position with The Lights of History by Feltemi Reis, staring that The Alpura Prolycia Amyr was Emperor Nalto sixty-third decree. Kvothe brings Fall of Empire by Greggor the Lesser staring the decree was issued by the church. They take the issue to Puppet.
“I was wondering about the Amyr, actually.” My eyes remained on the scene unfolding at Puppet’s feet. Another marionette had joined the show, a young girl in a peasant dress. She approached the Tehlin and held out a hand as if trying to give him something. No, she was asking him a question. The Tehlin turned his back on her. She laid a timid hand on his arm. He took a haughty step away. “I was wondering who disbanded them. Emperor Nalto or the church.”
“Still looking,” he admonished more gently than before. “You need to go chase the wind for a while, you are too serious. It will lead you into trouble.” The Tehlin suddenly turned on the girl. Trembling with rage, it menaced her with the book. She took a startled step backward and stumbled to her knees. “The church disbanded them of course. Only an edict from the pontifex had the ability to affect them.” The Tehlin struck the girl with the book. Once, twice, driving her to the ground, where she lay terribly still. “Nalto couldn’t have told them to cross to the other side of the street.”
Kvothe goes on to ask Puppet if he has read Reis and why Reis would say the Alpura Prolycia Amyr was Emperor Nalto’s sixty-third decree. Puppet answers that Reis wouldn’t say that.
Wil goes onto speculate about the inconsistency.
“It could be a transcription mistake,” Wilem mused. “Depending on the edition of the book, the church itself might be responsible for changing that piece of information. Emperor Nalto is history’s favorite whipping boy. It could be the church trying to distance itself from the Amyr. They did some terrible things toward the end.”
Now recall the suppression of evidence fallacy occurs when true and relevant information is left out for any reason. Technically what Wil is suggesting looks more like falsifying evidence than suppressing evidence. Without knowing what specific information is left out, it’s impossible to conclusively distinguish between the potential for the falsification of evidence from the suppression of evidence. Imagine that the church and Nalto acted in concert somehow, but for some reason each author only included part, or as Wil suggests, the church somehow erased their part in Reis. Or what if Nalto was both Emperor and Pontifax? This contradicts Puppet’s assertion that Nalto could not have told the Amyr to cross the street, but who knows what evidence Puppet uses as the basis for that assertion. This is a lot of speculation, but it’s the possibility that would most obviously link Nalto with suppression.
Also look at what’s going on with Puppet’s puppets during this conversation. A girl puppet is asking the Tehlin priest puppet a question and he beats her with the Book of the path.
“I was wondering about the Amyr, actually.” My eyes remained on the scene unfolding at Puppet’s feet. Another marionette had joined the show, a young girl in a peasant dress. She approached the Tehlin and held out a hand as if trying to give him something. No, she was asking him a question. The Tehlin turned his back on her. She laid a timid hand on his arm. He took a haughty step away. “I was wondering who disbanded them. Emperor Nalto or the church.”
“Still looking,” he admonished more gently than before. “You need to go chase the wind for a while, you are too serious. It will lead you into trouble.” The Tehlin suddenly turned on the girl. Trembling with rage, it menaced her with the book. She took a startled step backward and stumbled to her knees. “The church disbanded them of course. Only an edict from the pontifex had the ability to affect them.” The Tehlin struck the girl with the book. Once, twice, driving her to the ground, where she lay terribly still. “Nalto couldn’t have told them to cross to the other side of the street.”
Kvothe is asking questions about the Amyr. Puppet puppeteers a scene were the Tehlin Church suppresses questions.
The priest puppet also brandishes the book at Wil for betting, turns away from the girl he’s just beaten, as if to pray, dances when Kvothe asks about Reis, and bows to Wil’s suggestion that the church changed Reis’s work.
Altogether, this seems to confirm that the church suppressed the truth about the abolishing of the Amyr and provides a basis to associate Nalto with suppression, albeit suppression by the church.
Kvothe is an unreliable narrator
Whether Kvothe is an unreliable narrator is a frequent question among readers. Two common positions on this issue are that Kvothe is a liar (even lying about being a good/bad liar) and that, to some extent, all first person narration is inherently biased. If Kvothe is leaving out truthful relevant information, he is suppressing evidence. This makes him unreliable.
Edits: typos and formatting, fixed link for weak analogy
Edit: Least it get overlooked, u/BlueRusalka poinst out the similarity of suppression of evidence to the secrets of the heart in the comment section. I’m including the relevant text here.
IN THE THEOPHANY, TECCAM writes of secrets, calling them painful treasures of the mind. He explains that what most people think of as secrets are really nothing of the sort. Mysteries, for example, are not secrets. Neither are little-known facts or forgotten truths. A secret, Teccam explains, is true knowledge actively concealed.
Philosophers have quibbled over his definition for centuries. They point out the logical problems with it, the loopholes, the exceptions. But in all this time none of them has managed to come up with a better definition. That, perhaps, tells us more than all the quibbling combined.
In a later chapter, less argued over and less well-known, Teccam explains that there are two types of secrets. There are secrets of the mouth and secrets of the heart.
Most secrets are secrets of the mouth. Gossip shared and small scandals whispered. These secrets long to be let loose upon the world. A secret of the mouth is like a stone in your boot. At first you’re barely aware of it. Then it grows irritating, then intolerable. Secrets of the mouth grow larger the longer you keep them, swelling until they press against your lips. They fight to be let free.
Secrets of the heart are different. They are private and painful, and we want nothing more than to hide them from the world. They do not swell and press against the mouth. They live in the heart, and the longer they are kept, the heavier they become.
Teccam claims it is better to have a mouthful of poison than a secret of the heart. Any fool will spit out poison, he says, but we hoard these painful treasures. We swallow hard against them every day, forcing them deep inside us. There they sit, growing heavier, festering. Given enough time, they cannot help but crush the heart that holds them.
Modern philosophers scorn Teccam, but they are vultures picking at the bones of a giant. Quibble all you like, Teccam understood the shape of the world.
Does this mean Kvothe is suppressing evidence equivalent to a secret of the heart?
submitted by PlaytheBoard to KingkillerChronicle [link] [comments]

My best friend is “That Guy”!

In the 20 years I’ve been playing, I’m fortunate to have very few horror experiences. I guess thats because for the majority of that time, I’ve been lucky to have had gm’d for the same group. As time goes by people get married, get jobs, move, schedule conflicts, and basically life arises and this group eventually moved to gaming from twice a week to once to once a month and eventually not at all.
I mentioned in my previous story a sorcerer. The player of the sorcerer and i are still best friends, despite it being close to 15 years since that story happened. A about two years ago i moved in with him and one day he told me he wanted to run a mutants and masterminds adventure based on the SCP stories. I thought that sounded awesome. For those of you who don’t know, SCP is an online collection of stories about a fictional organization that tracks down and contains monsters and artifacts, locking them away and studying them and Mutants and masterminds is a superhero rpg. So in my head I’m picturing a cross between the company from heroes meets Cthulhu meets Spider-Man! He invites one of his friends from college who we will call “mark, and i invite one of my old players who we will call Kevin. Then of course there’s the GM, who I’ll call Steven and myself. On game day, Kevin can’t make it, but we forge ahead anyway. After making characters the three of us play through about half a session before Steven wraps it up for the night saying he needs time to “think about what will happen next.” We had only been playing for 2 1/2 hours, counting character creation. He told me later he hadn’t even come up with the monster yet despite it being his idea and he set up the date for playing, and wasn’t working at the time. A week later he calls the campaign because he just can’t figure out anything to do with it and its cutting into his time playing video games.
This could have been the end. This should have been the end, but it wasn’t. I had played again and I liked it. We had 4 people who were committing to a regular game, whose schedules all lined up, and I wanted to run. I talk with Steven and let him know that i want to run a campaign. Ive already spoken with Kevin and mark and even got a hold of one of my other players who i will call Vince to join in a Star Wars group, and invited Steven to join. I told him the idea was that it would be fireflyesq. An episodic adventure of a crew who were an ensemble cast, sort of speak, just trying to get along. Doing missions to keep their ship up and running and get some money on the side. Those who were on the outskirts of the law and society, who could be a. Bounty hunter one week and a smuggler the next. Making friends and enemies in every port along the way.
“I want to be the pilot.” Were his first words. I’m cool with that. No one else had chosen any roles on the ship yet, he was the first person who I spoke to about what the plot would be, and we’re typically first come first serve when it comes to characters. Besides, it would all be figured out in session zero. If anyone had any problems with a that they could talk it out then. I nodded and gave the ok. “And I want to own the ship.” well, i thought. The ship has to belong to someone.
But still. “I don’t know....” I began. Him cutting me off
“If I’m piloting it might as well be my ship.”
“Fair enough.” I shrugged, not really seeing the harm that could do. Its not as if everyone wouldn’t have a stake in the ship and missions based around each character anyway.
“And i want to be a member of the rebellion.”
“You did catch that I wasn’t going to make the rebellion and empire a big thing. I mean, they would give you an occasional mission or sometimes you may have to outrun one of their ships, but that was about it.”
“I wan’t to be in the rebellion or I’m not going to play.” That wasn’t the full threat and I knew it. From his tone he wouldn’t just not play, but he would whine and be as obnoxious as he could during game time to make it hard for the players.
I sigh. I could make this work. Sure, he could be an undercover operative. That could be pretty fun. I’ve done that myself. Occasionally he would get jobs that would secretly help the rebellion cause. And then the group could start to figure it out, making it a mystery. What is in the thing they are smuggling, or whose the person they are hunting for a bounty, until they eventually figure out they are working for the rebellion. Yeah, that could be a fun thing behind the scenes. “Okay,” I begin. “But just a warning not everyone on the ship will be working for the rebellion.” About to lay out this idea for him, when he cuts me off.
“If they aren’t rebellion I wouldn’t let them on my ship.”
I blink. I had told him point blank that I didn’t want to run a rebellion/empire war campaign. That I didn’t want it to be a central point besides for background. “What?” I asked disbelieving. “You did catch what i said, right?”
“Yeah, but if I’m the pilot AND its my ship, then I wouldn’t let anyone onboard who wasn’t a member of the rebellion. We would be doing rebellion work and jobs.”
I sighed again. For the sake of my friendship and the peace in my home, I agreed. Making a retreat to my room before he could dictate the game to me further. In my room I start thinking. ‘Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. I hadn’t told anyone else what i was planning on with the story besides for a Star Wars campaign. I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate as a gm, so I was planning on using published adventures and adventure hooks from the fantasy flight games twitter, and I could still do that. I would just have to use some age of rebellion books instead of edge of the empire. Really, its not what i was planning on running, but i could still make it work. If this was the last of it, I wouldn’t be writing this story.
Skip forward a few days to character creation/first session. I had picked up an introductory module for age of rebellion and familiarized myself with it. Steve, just as he had promised had made a pilot. It was a very well rounded character, having a little of every ability but only real focus is piloting. A good support character and honestly i was pretty happy with it. Mark had made a sniper specializing in heavy two handed ranged weaponry. Kevin made an infiltrator talker character, and Vince made an engineer droid who could only talk in imperial propaganda as he had originally been a rebel spy. Anytime anyone starts talking about their character, Steve chimes in. Someone has electronics. So does Steve. Someone has mechanics? So does Steve. Someone had medicine? Steve doesn’t, but thats okay cuz Steve is “da biggest and bestest pilot in the galaxy.” Something we heard several times during creation.
The module begins with the group going to a rebel base under assault! Steve refuses to allow anyone to help him pilot despite the fact his ship was made for 2 pilots, because “I’m the pilot, so I’m the only one who should. Besides, I’m da biggest and bestest pilot in the rebellion, so i don’t need your help!” They’re being pursued by tie fighters AND have to fly through a cavern with long hanging stalactites and stalagmites while under fire, plus at a penalty with out a copilot. One of the players says they can at least use the turret and Steve tries to shoot it down, saying “this is my ship and no one will do anything in it but me!” I step in and bring up that Mark had gunnery skill, and kevin could help pilot the ship, and Vince could be repairing the ship during this. “No! This is my ship and the only thing I’m good at!” We all roll our eyes.
By some miracle he brings the ship in close enough to the base for its guns to shoot off the tie fighters, but the ship is messed up, and Steven is mad. Muttering angrily under his breath mad.
In the next phase of the adventure there is an ATAT making its way down a canyon right to the base, its supported with 4 at-st’s and something like 50-100 storm troopers. In the canyon there is a walkway carved that has explosives planted on it and an electronics check is needed to cause them to go boom. The droid has the bet electronics so he volunteers, playing a clip of “for the empire!” There are blaster canons along the cliff edge that can be used with a gunnery check to slow down the walkers. Marks character who had gunnery volunteers to use one. There are hidden entry ways allowing for combat with the troops in the canyon, the Kevin volunteers thinking he can use his cloaking shield and claws to take down troopers quietly, and speeders that can be piloted to help slow the walkers and provide cover for the cannons. Everyone turns to Steve is again, the ‘biggest and bestest pilot in the galaxy!’ Steve says “what’s the point? The OP will just try to screw me over like he did on the way in here! He obviously has it out for me!”
I wanted to explode, but thankfully the rest of the group had my back. They reminded him how he refused to let them do anything. He didn’t let the gunner shoot, he dind’t let the copilot copilot, he didn’t let the mechanic fix, and instead they had to watch him do everything. He sighed and dropped the point, still shooting daggers at me and tried to figure out where best to go. He was reminded once again about the speeders, but just shook his head and muttered something about me. “I could do the explosives. I have one rank in computer.” The droid had 3. “I could use the turret. I have one rank in gunnery.” The Gunnar had 3. He began to argue with everyone that because he had a 1 rank in something, he obviously was the best choice for everything. I can shoot! I can use computers! I can do this, so i should do this and you should do something else. The rest of the group had had enough at this point and were arguing back. Finally, after some test roles were done and they compared the size of their cocks, i mean dice pools, he agreed to fire a blaster pistol from the canyon face.
The battle itself isn’t important. The droid made the booms go boom, the group slowed down the enemies enough for him to reach the explosives, and the party won. The only noteworthy point was that that gunners canon took a hit which gave him a critical injury when it exploded. In the ffg games a critical you roll a D% and the higher you roll the worse it is. If you roll a 140 you’re dead. Each critical compounding adding +10 to the check until it’s healed. He rolled and his arm was paralyzed. That was where i called that session.
Afterward, i spoke with Steve and let him know that it wasn’t just his story. This was a group campaign, and that everyone can do something, and even if it isn’t him, he can still cheer them on or offer his help. He said yeah, he knew and he would do better next session. I let it slide. He and I had spoke, he seemed to know what he had done was wrong. The party had stood up for themselves as well, and he apologized. I thought it would get better. Then the next session happened.
In between sessions i had made a new character for Mark to take over since his was badly injured. I had made another heavy weapons expert, so the party didn’t lose that damage, with some medical capability, that being something the party was missing. When we begin, and people are taking out their character sheets, I inform everyone that the good part about being in an army like they were is that when someone is injured or killed, there can be someone new assigned to the unit. I take out the character i had made Mark and said if he wanted to he could play this, or he could make up a new character and bring that one in instead until his gunner was healed. Steven has a fit.
“You can’t just bring in a new character!”
“Why not?” I ask in a calm voice. I am very proud that i stayed in a calm, reasonable voice for this entire fight.
“Because you just can’t!”
“Yes, yes Mark can if he chooses to.”
“How are you gonna explain it in game? It doesn’t make any sense?”
“I’m pretty sure i just did. They are someone new assigned to your unit.”
“But where are they gonna come from?”
“The rebellion, of course.”
“But what about party cohesion?”
“You’re in the army. Your cohesion is whoever youre ordered to be with. Besides, its not permenant. And this character fills a void your were missing. He’s not only a heavy weapon specialist like Marks old character, but also a medic.” I say with a smile handing the sheet over to Mark. “Again that is if you choose to use him. Like i said, you can build a new..”
“The rebellion won’t fix him up! He’s just some random soldier!” I can almost hear him saying “he’s not my awesome, bestest pilot in the galaxy.”
Looking back at Steven, “why not. The rebellion has an entire medical frigate. And he’ll get a baseline prosthetic arms, not anything special that will give him bonuses, that is if the bacta doesn’t take care of it.”
This fight went on for nearly 5 minutes with poor Mark caught in the middle. Finally Steven plays his trump card.
“If i was injured, i wouldn’t want to bring in a new character or be healed. I’d want to play through it!”
Mark sighed. “Its okay, I’ll stick with my Gunner.” Looking dejected he handed me back the sheet. He had actually been excited about the medic, eyes lighting up looking over, pointing out interesting things it could do. Steve looked triumphant.
“Are you sure? You don’t need to let Steven dictate your character. You are a two handed specialist who lost a hand. The weapons you could use you don’t have any ranks in, plus you have a penalty from the injury, and if you take a crit it’s guaranteed to be worse. On top of that, your armor is ruined from the explosion so you’re defenseless. This isn’t Stevens decision to make, its not his character, its yours.”
“Yeah, i guess I’m sure.” With Mark having made his decision there was nothing else i could do.
“Okay.” Sigh. “I guess you can go to the quartermaster and get a new set of armor and a blaster pistol so you can have a weapon.”
“No he can’t! We don’t have time!” Again Steve butts in.
“I guess i won’t.” Mark says, giving in. I let Mark know he could but he shakes his head no and asks to move on.
In the next section of the adventure its revealed there is a traitor and its up to the party to figure out who it is. The group narrows down its list of suspects, and split. Half the group goes to do background research and half go to interrogate the first suspect. Steve decides to take mark with him and talk to the suspect because he has a rank in intimidation so he can do it.
“But i have more ranks in intimidate and persuasion and a higher presence...” Kevin began, being a talking specialist at that.
“Its okay, i have 1 rank, and I want to do it and ill do it better.”
“Okay,” said Kevin, just done with it.
“I’d rather go with and help with research. I’m pretty hurt...” Mark began
“I’m about to confront a traitor. You’re the only other fighter here and i want some protection.” Kevin and i scoffed, remembering that close quarters combat was a speciality of Kevin’s.
I stuck with the droid and kevins character, letting them know what they found could be fed to the interrogators and help them with their checks. A few checks in and i hear
“I want to interrogate the suspect!” Steven announces loudly, speaking over me while i was in the middle of letting them know what they found.
“Okay, hold on just one second, let me finish with them.”
“No! I want to interrogate him.”
“I got that, but I’m with the other party and...”
“They can wait until after i talk to him. what they’re doing doesn’t matter anyway.”
Vince says “just do it. You can come back to us.” Giving me a long suffering look that only a big brother can (note, hes not my big brother, but he is Kevin’s).
“Okay” i say, turning my attention to Steven. “What’s the plan.”
“Me and kevin are going to interrogate the first suspect. I want to do it!”
Steven starts questioning, and rolls a success, but a despair. A despair is a crit bad thing in the ffg games. The man realizing that he had been found pulls out his blaster and shoots Steven in the face with a stun bolt, knocking him out. “But thats not fair! I have one rank in intimidation!”
“Yes,” responded Vince. “And hes a trained imperial spy who realized his cover was blown and protected himself. Maybe next time let the person who specialized in talking do the talking, or let the researchers finish the research because we had just found that out and could have warned you!”
Mark goes down next, the guy who didn’t want to be there, and was forced to by Steve, goes down. Since he already had a critical injury, he takes another one. This time he loses his entire arm, and the spy escapes. I ask Mark if he wants to bring in a new character, because this is the time i could. “Someone could have seen what happened and come along,” i reason, pulling out the backup character i had made.
“No he doesn’t!”
Mark rolled his eyes and shook his head. The group tracks down the villain, and the guy who is a two handed ranged weapon specialist is forced to fight the martial artist with one arm, no armor, and no weapon already injured. He goes down in the first round, and get a new critical injury, now permenantly paralyzed from the waist down. And before the villain is taken out, the Steve, who was so proud of his 1 rank in ranged light crit misses, hitting mark and giving him one last injury, causing permanent brain damage. After they won the fight, Steve said he needed a break. I stayed behind and spoke with Steve while everyone left.
“I really messed up tonight.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m ashamed of how i behaved in this game so far.”
“Your should be.”
“It’s because of me Mark needs a new character, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m gonna stay out the rest of the night.”
“That’s probably a good idea. I’ll tell the guys youre not feeling well.”
“Thanks.”
We finished that nights session without Steven, and in the next week he texted a personal apology to every player. Despite all of us agreeing to give him another chance, he didn’t play the next week either. That was the last session as life once again reared its ugly head. To me he didn’t just apologize for the railroading, for pushing around the other players, but also for forcing me to run a game that i didn’t want to run. That surprised me, i thought he had forgotten that.
Though we’re no longer roommates, Steven is still one of my best friends. We speak at least once a week. He is one of the most generous and caring people i know. He is the kind of man who will give you the shirt off of his back and ask if you’re okay while doing it. He loves to tell stories and wants to help make the world a better place, even if he doesn’t know how to. He will talk about video games and anime and cars for hours, and will help you move, even if you moved the weekend before. And i mean lifting the heavy stuff too. I put this here because its easy to judge someone based on their worse times, but with him those moments are fleeting. This is who is normally is.
TLDR: player railroads the gm into playing a game he didn’t want to play, forces himself into every role, and then browbeats the other players until it kills their character.
Edit. I’ve been asked a lot why I allowed him to do so much. While when he started in game i spoke to him when the events occurred, let him know he was over stepping boundaries, stealing the spotlight, and called him out on his various actions, and spoke with him after the session to remind him this was a team game, I want to explain why I allowed him so much freedom when it came to dictating terms of the game beforehand. Something I didn’t mention was that I was going through a divorce and he had allowed me to move in with him. I didn’t want to lose my home and become homeless again because of a game.
submitted by Miichl80 to rpghorrorstories [link] [comments]

The Featherlight Transmission, Ch. 19

Sector Sixteen is gross. And I’m not being affectionate here, like “Oh, Sixteen is so gross, haha”. It’s disgusting, both physically and otherwise. Seventeen takes the very idea of filth as an object of careful consideration and respect. Sixteen seems to be sprinting headlong toward an early death by infection as quickly as humanly possible.
There have been a few times where Wellspring City has broken out in armed conflict, inside itself. The Intersectional Wars. Only two of them, in the span of about six hundred years, because even if you hate your neighbors with a blind passion, it’s still a city and all the parts still fundamentally need one another. That and the Wellwardens tend to put a quick stop to any large-stale infighting with the flick of an indestructible wrist.
Both times, Sixteen was destroyed almost immediately, by joint assault led from either Three or Twenty. Why? Because Twenty is the city’s religious district, and Three is home to the prison, the courthouse, and the headquarters of the Watch. Once the Sector Lords abandoned their duties in favor of bloodshed and a total dissolution of civil safety, Three and Twenty wasted no time in falling upon Sixteen like a shining hammer of crystalline justice. The sectors of Law and Purity finally had their chance to wipe their hated foe straight off the map - the sector of Abandon.
They’d tried education and rehabilitation for decades, and elected the time had come for the helping hand to form a fist instead.
And it worked. Why wouldn’t it? Three had all the muscle, Twenty had the most stirring speeches - Sixteen had no allies and no chance. It burned to the ground, along with all its debasement and sin.
Twice.
And Sixteen is still here.
There’s a lesson in this, kids, and it’s one that people like Three and Twenty have a hard time getting to grips with. You can kill sinners. It’s easy. Shoot them in the face, cut their heads off, hang them, tear the flesh from their bones, burn them at the stake. Not even a problem. You can do it all day if you’re motivated enough - all it takes is some earplugs, an apron, something sharp, and a can-do spirit.
You cannot, however, kill sin. It is always going to be there. You can whip yourself, fast, pray, feed the hungry, heal the sick, read a thousand books and climb a hundred mountains, but there is always going to be a part of you that wants something you know you’re not supposed to have. You might not act on it, but you’re still going to want it. Pretending otherwise is an exercise in puritanical foolishness that only results in self-loathing and insanity.
If you want to cauterize sin once and for all, the last person on the pyre is going to have to be you.
They tried burning Sector Sixteen to the ground, but like a weed with deep roots, it just grew back, right out of the ashes. And the place shows all its scars, with a kind of devilish pride. There isn’t much order to the place. There’s still piles of charred rubble in some parts, left as a kind of lazy monument to the things the district’s been through. All the cheap neon lights and billboards shine on crumbling stone, rotten foundations, and the toothy grins of all the good ghouls who came here for a particular brand of fun.
It’s festive here, sure, in a way. But it doesn’t have that homey, clannish charm that Thirteen has. There’s something oily about it - a grease released from all the curdled shame of the people losing themselves here.
This is where I found Tennima, a long time ago. I used to find a lot of kids here. As you can probably imagine, children do not belong in Sector Sixteen. But that doesn’t stop them from showing up.
I’ve broken a lot of bones in these alleys. And only a few of them were mine.
My stride widens as I work my way through the sweaty multicolored lights and past many dark doorsteps. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to. A lot of bad memories.
Hell, it’s half past noon and I’m being solicited left and right. And that’s not really unusual. Slabs have a hard time finding companionship. They’re enormous and oftentimes mentally unstable - trying to find physical affection when you’re a frothing mountain of angry muscle is about as easy as finding an ice cube in a smelter. And of course, for a lot of them, that just makes them angrier. The uh… hardworking men and women here charge slabs extra, for liability purposes, but they will take them as customers, unlike most everywhere else. And both parties know it. There are a lot of very big people in these crowds.
“Hey there, big boy. You look like you could use some company.”
“Why don’t you come this way and party with us, baby?”
“I’m reinforced. I can take a lot.”
A few of them approach me and take me by the elbow, trying to lead me off into one den or another. I don’t look any of them in the face, and keep walking. They don’t have a hope in the world of stopping me, either physically or mentally, and they realize that fast and break off to go hover around someone else.
It’s not that I’m disinterested in sex, specifically. Sex is a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon, I guess. I’m just disinterested in most things, and one of those things is copulating with… these fine people. One - I can’t afford it. Two - half these receptive men and women are more augmented than I am (they have a pretty rough job, after all), and I prefer a more organic experience. Three… well. I like a bit of emotional involvement. Call me a romantic.
It takes me a bit to get to the far eastern sections of Sixteen, and every step feels like it’s sunk in sticky oil. The deadliest sector in the city is Three, bar none - that’s where they literally kill people, after all. But Sixteen is infinitely more dangerous. Three will at least run you through a paperwork mill and tell you that they’re killing you before they do it. Sixteen doesn’t extend that kind of courtesy, and it won’t kill you all at once. You’ll die slow. You’ll die of desperation. Of loneliness. Of anhedonia, bankruptcy, and overdose. And by the time the serpent has coiled around you and sunk its fangs into your neck, you’ll be asking for it.
Seventeen does come after Sixteen, after all.
And speaking of pain and death… I see a familiar face off to the left of the street. A dumpy, pear-shaped body awkwardly mashed into a cheap purple plastic suit, with thinning hair and an amount of sweat that only comes with years of high-test doses of thump. He’s a businessman, after all. Got to stay awake.
He sees me back, over the tops of dozens of heads. Leaning against the side of a flesh shop like he owns it, his eyes go wide, for just a second. I don’t blame him, considering the things I said to him the last time we saw one another. He doesn’t move, though. Doesn’t run or try to hide behind anything. There are a few heavy men standing near him, the kind you pay to intimidate people like me. Ten years ago, he couldn’t afford this kind of muscle. If he had, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I did. I guess he learned some lessons and recouped from the loss.
Ten years is a long time, after all.
I stop walking, smack in the middle of the street. A few people crash into my back and mutter expletives at me. I can’t even hear them. There’s this rushing sound in my ears, like a waterfall, blocking everything out. My eyes won’t move from this old acquaintance of mine.
The instant I stop, staring at him, he comes off the building, leans on his shiny black cane, and beckons one of his goons. They exchange a few words. He doesn’t take his eyes off me the entire time. The four or five slab bodyguards come to a kind of pack animal attention, tipped off that there’s a threat nearby. They join their boss in trying to stare me down.
I carve a path directly through the crowd over to him, neon shadows and pedestrian bodies flowing all around me. It’s like walking through a bad dream. My heart won’t stay put. And my legs are acting with a will of their own. I’m a stray bolt being drawn in by a magnet.
Out of the crowd and in the mouth of the alley, I’m about twenty feet from him. If I get any closer, there’ll be a fight. And we wouldn’t want that.
It’s darker here, in the arms of the buildings. Tougher for anyone behind me to see what’s going on in the shadows.
He speaks first. He’s the kind of guy that’ll do that - head his competitors off as soon as possible. There’s a voice like chemical wind from under the door of a morgue.
“So. The Beast emerges from his hibernation and walks among us once more. You catch me by surprise, Featherlight. I didn’t think I’d see you around here anytime soon.”
His arms are folded over his flabby chest in a show of confidence, but his sweat and juddering vitae tell a different story. I don’t say anything for a moment. I shake my head and laugh quietly. I can’t help it. Some people are just naturally funny.
I reply, “I find myself confused, Strake.”
He smiles back at me. “Oh? And why’s that, pray tell?”
I scratch my head bemusedly. “Because the last time we saw each other, I snapped both your femurs, traumatically confiscated your testicles, and explained in no uncertain terms that if I ever saw you in Sector Sixteen again, I’d not only break every other bone in your body, but I’d also make you a fancy new necktie out of your own unraveled larynx. I was very clear. You were screaming very loudly at the time, but I was pretty sure you got the message. And yet, here you stand. Very impressive, by the way. I realize your knees were probably replaced a while ago, but has medical science progressed to the point that they make prosthetic balls now too? I’m dying to know, Strake. Because we established a while ago that you’re not mature enough to use them responsibly, so, if that’s the case, I’m going to have to take the new pair as well. You naughty boy.”
I swear I hear one his henchmen stifle a snicker behind me. Strake’s smile evaporates. Bad memories will suck all the cheer right out of a guy, and for Strake, I’m eight hundred pounds of things he’d rather not remember.
He replies around his scowl, “Yeah, well, we all make promises we can’t keep sometimes, don’t we. I bought a cane. I get around just fine. ‘Cause some of us have persistence, Featherlight. I pushed through it and now I’m bigger than I’ve ever been. I survived you. I buy my own bullies now, see? And you’re just another sad gutter slab tryna wreck up hardworking businessmen for no reason other than sanctimonious pettiness. I pity you, frankly. A miserable animal unfit to live amongst us civilized folk.”
I grin down at him. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, Strake. I’m so goddamn glad to see you again, you adorable little goblin. Really, I couldn’t be happier. I fucking love hurting you. Maybe that’s bad of me. You know what, no - it definitely is. But honestly?” My arms shrug wide, and my eyes gleam emerald and bright. “If being an animal means I get to feel your putrid fucking carcass give way under my hands all over again, then I’m just not cut out to be human.”
I’ll give the cretin a bit of credit - he’s still got a brave face on. But his vitae looks like it’s in the middle of a hurricane, and I see him grip his cane with both hands to stop them from shaking. He remembers what it felt like. He remembers every single second he and I spent together that night, and I’m overjoyed to see it.
Because I remember, too.
He takes a single step back. Just one. And for now, that’s all I need in order to be the happiest man in the world. His goons, however, all take a step forward.
“You can’t do shit, Featherlight. You live on thin ice. I’m a citizen, and you’re a fucking mutant. Put a goddamn finger on me in a place like this and the Watch will be all over your ass like scumbirds on a dead cat. Why don’t you fuck off back into the sewer you crawled out of, huh? Leave the daylight to us normal folk.”
All I can do is smile and nod. “Hmm. I admit it, Strake, you’ve got me there. But I’ll say this much - you bet all your chips on the law’s protection last time, too. And as I recall, they found themselves very distracted while I made you into none of the man that you used to be. I wonder if you’re a valuable enough citizen now to get them to come to your defense. I guess we’ll find out.”
I turn my back on him, grinning from ear to ear, and start back down the street.
Behind me, he calls, “I know where you live, you fucking freak!”
My hand waves back at him dismissively. “You’ve known the entire time, Strake. Come and visit for once. I’d save me the effort of having to track you down.”
I think he says something else, just so he can say he got the last word, but by then I’m far enough in the crowd that I can’t hear him.
You know, it occurs to me that it might be an incredibly poor judgment call to antagonize this many people that all know my exact address. I’m stacking up potential enemies like firewood. Before long I’m not gonna be able to leave my house without getting painted with an entire rainbow of crosshairs.
And I don’t really fucking care. Once you’ve been shot a few dozen times it kind of loses its menace.
I’ve got way too much to do lately to make Strake a priority. Sadly, the Sector Sixteen Watch precinct probably feels the same way, and I’m not about to ping my only Watch contact to go across jurisdictional lines to harass some pervert they’ve never heard of.
I wonder whether I should tell Tennima that Strake is still kicking around. The only reason I know him at all is because of her, through no fault of her own. Ten years ago I tore his balls off and shattered his legs on her behalf, but that was ten years ago. She’s an adult now, and smart enough to make toys that are way scarier than I could ever be.
She might want to kill him herself. She alone has the right. And she could do it without even lifting a finger.
Do I want to be a part of that? Do I want that for her? Is that even the decision she’d make, and is it even up to me to get involved? She knows what I did and why, but would it help anything to tell her that he’s still around?
Sigh. It doesn’t matter. She’s right, she isn’t a child anymore, even if it’s hard for me to see her as anything else. She’s a grown woman. And withholding this wouldn’t be respectful of me.
… But I’ll call her later. It’s not gonna hurt her to be in the dark a little while longer, and I’ve got shit to do.
I should probably make it clear, here, that I’ve never actually killed anyone before. Not as far as I’m aware, at least. I might have hinted that I have, a couple of times throughout this ripping narrative, but that was just me being colorful. The truth is that the gods teamed up with dark science to give skull-squishing strength and body mass to a complete and utter softie. One time when I was a kid my mom stepped on a slug and I fucking cried. Before all of… this happened to me, I thought I wanted to work my way out of Nineteen and become a doctor, of all things.
It’s amazing, the things you’ll think as a kid, before you realize you’re too poor to pay life’s protection money, and then it shows up on your front door and uses brass knuckles and a lead pipe to teach you that you’re not the one calling the shots around here. Dreams are for people with money. The rest of us get to spit out our teeth for sixty years.
… What was I saying? Oh yeah. Never killed anyone. It wouldn’t be hard or anything, people are super killable. I just don’t have it in me. I couldn’t even kill Strake, and believe me, I wanted to kill him even more than I wanted my mother to get better. And I fucking loved my mom.
I’ve hurt people, sure, no question. Hell, I’ve torn bits off people. Important bits, too. I’ve punched, kicked, headbutted and bitten my way through more than a few scraps in my time, and I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t a small part of me that’s enjoyed it every time. But that’s not who I am. And it’s not who I want to be.
… That said, I really, really want to kill Strake. I can’t just let him exist as he is. If that sack of shit is back to doing what he used to do, some kids are going to be hurt. In ways that don’t ever heal. I figure if I can prevent that by breaking him into teeny tiny pieces, it’ll be worth the permanent stain on my morality. I can’t be the only one that wants him dead, right? Maybe I’ll see if anyone’s put a hit out on him. I’m not an assassin, because I’d be terrible at it and the risks aren’t worth it, but in this case, I’m sorely tempted to make the exception of a lifetime. Especially if the money’s good enough. I’m supposed to be some kind of mercenary or something, aren’t I? I’d give his evil little head to the first person that handed me a thousand-credit chip for it.
Or at least I might. I should have gotten my conscience removed when I had the chance.
After more grimy blocks than I can count and avoiding several thousand suspicious-looking puddles, I come to the far end of the sector. The Wall, dark and impassive as it ever is, looms high above me and everything else, barely even reflecting sunlight. And lying in its shadow, just away from the edge of the sector platform, is the bar I’ve come to visit.
This is away from the high-energy bustle of Sixteen proper, so it’s quieter, and a little less… venereal. Even a place as hot and gross as Sixteen has its calm spots, because eventually the thump wears off and people have to take their antibiotics and sleep. The place doesn’t actually look that bad, on the outside. Relatively clean brick facade, some wrought iron fencing, nestled to one side of an open backstreet square that seems like it still hasn’t woken up even though it’s the early afternoon. I climb up the rusty plate steps and, yep, fancy filigree sign says The Scripted Serpent. Door’s even made of wood - very classy. It doesn’t match it surroundings at all - if you told me this establishment got transplanted here from Ten or Twelve I’d be inclined to believe you. I walk in.
Inside, it’s somehow smaller than I expected it to be. Or maybe it just feels that way. There’s a ludicrously well-polished middle-length bar taking up the far wall, with a clean-looking mustachioed fellow in a white shirt at the helm, smoking a shiny pipe and making drinks. Dim and smoky, as befitting any den of booze and iniquity, but in a way that makes the room seem cozy rather than nefarious. High ceiling, vaulted with crossbeams. Everything’s done in expensive wood and stone rather than metal and plastic. Whoever built this place wasn’t afraid of shelling out. It’s quiet. And nice. Honestly, if I had money and didn’t have to walk through the entirety of Sector Sixteen to get here, I’d like to hang out in here sometime.
Not many people at this time of day. One or two with their bellies to the bar, a scattered few at the booths and tables, including a group of three old men smoking cigars and playing cards. But I see one guy over by the window. Only one in here wearing a hat. Dressed like one of those Hot Plains cattle ranchers.
The bartender and a couple of the less engaged patrons fix me with looks. This kind of seems like one of those places where every customer is a regular, and I’m highly irregular. Do I want a drink? Yeah fuck it, I want a drink. Who knows, I could be dead tomorrow. And I’ll feel like an idiot if I die with anything left in my bank account.
I approach the bar but don’t sit down. The drinks drone hovers toward me like an automech on a mission.
“What can I get for you, sir?”
I stifle a snort. Sir. What a weird thing to call me.
“I’m on the hunt for a beer, if there’s beer.”
“There is beer.” He reaches over the bar to hand me - get this - a list. “We just got in a few barrels of fresh north-Krathian frostbock, if you’re in the mood for something sturdy. So fresh we haven’t gotten it on the menu yet, actually. You’ll find the rest there. More than thirty options.”
I think I might be in the wrong kind of establishment. I just hold the menu back at him without looking at it. “Oh boy. Uh. As it happens, I’m poor as dirt, so I’ll just have to go with whatever sludge you’ve got left at the bottom of your vatbeer tank.”
He smirks, looking down at the glass he’s polishing. “The owner refuses to let vatbeer cross his doorstep. Check the prices, sir, you might be pleasantly surprised.”
I blink once, and open the menu. I have no idea what this guy’s driving at, there’s no way I’ll be able to afford anything other than the sextuple-filtered wheatpiss anyway-
Oh.
I look back up at him, brow furrowed and deeply confused. “Is this entire list a typo?”
“Nope. No mistake. That’s what our beer costs.”
My eyes go back down to the menu, then back up at him again in total bewilderment. “How? Unless this piece of paper is more full of fabricated bullshit than the average issue of the Herald.”
The guy just keeps smiling and cleaning contentedly. “You be the judge. Pick one and find out.”
Well now I’m just indignant. There’s no way they could be selling actual, real, unadulterated imported beer at these prices and still be in business. People like me aren’t allowed to afford drink this good, it’s the fourth law of econodynamics.
“Alright then, champ, you’re on. I’ll have a tank of the hollowhunter’s ale.”
He holds up the slab-sized tankard he’s been polishing, inspecting it for flaws. “Good choice, sir. Just a moment.”
He turns around to address a row of taps set into the back wall.
When fresh and properly made, hollowhunter’s ale is like the fun version of drinking razor blades and pine needles mixed with acetone. Because your average hollowhunter is about nine inches from death at any given moment and they don’t have time to waste on pathetic normal peoples’ beer. The stuff is known the world over, and selling it is how the hollowhunters are able to afford all their armored vehicles and explosives. The copycat imitation variety doesn’t taste like the relief of having survived one more day without having your spine and kidneys torn out with one pull of an undead hand - it just tastes like battery acid and sadness. You can taste the suicidal bravery in the real stuff, and your average human coward just can’t replicate it.
The barkeep hands me the glass stein, with both hands. Strong arms. Guy doesn’t wobble, or spill a drop. I accept it from him and hold it up for inspection against the light. The brew is the color of a ruby sunset over a field of ripening wheat. Layer of fine white bubbles on top, like snow. Looks like the stuff I’ve had before. Hard to forget a beer that looks like liquid jewelry.
I take a sip.
Have you ever been exhilarated? Actually, genuinely flush with the pure, unbridled and electric wonder of being alive? The kind of seismic joy that only comes from giving Death himself a smooch on the cheek and scampering away before he can catch you? Have you walked through a living nightmare and emerged on the other side bleeding and broken, but suddenly aware of how beautiful grass can be when the sunlight strikes the dewdrops just right? That’s what this stuff tastes like. It tastes like snatching your own life out of the claws of something that eats entire forests as an aperitif. This is the beverage equivalent of shedding a single gasping, breathless tear in utter disbelief at the fact that your heart is somehow still beating, even though the flesh all around it is nothing but bloody bruises.
Smiling like he just pulled the greatest trick of all time, the bartender plunks the chip reader down on the bar top. “That’ll be four hundred credits.”
I ignore him and take another luxurious pull, because life’s too short to do anything other than love what you have. A sigh leaves my lungs like misty wind fleeing the summer sun. Then I (carefully) set the glass of liquid art on the bar, pull out my wallet and pay, shaking my head.
“I don’t get it, man. This stuff costs three times what you’re charging. Is there a trick, here? Do you own my house now, or something?”
He just shrugs, and grabs another glass to polish. I think bartenders have a condition that causes their brainstem to liquefy if their hands aren’t in contact with glass and a rag at all times.
“I just pour ‘em, sir. Somehow the bossman gets away with it, but I’ll be damned if I know how. All I know is that I keep getting my paychecks and the lights haven’t ever gone out.”
I retrieve the holy vessel and take another precious taste. “Well… the next time you see him, tell him he’s got a new favorite customer. I’ll keep coming back as long as you keep giving this stuff away.”
He nods happily. “I’ll let him know. Enjoy.”
And the giver of mighty gifts flutters away on invisible wings, to bless another undeserving soul.
Alright. Fun’s over. Business time.
I turn about and cross the room over to the booth where my not-man is sitting. Nobody pays me any mind as I approach, and neither does he. It? I’m not sure what the designators are, here. I’ll go with “he” because he looks like one. He just keeps his eyes out the window, looking at… I dunno, the world, I guess.
He doesn’t even look at me when I sit down right across from him.
At a passing glance, there isn’t anything unusual about this guy. He just looks like an older fellow that’s worked under the sun his whole life. Bronzed skin, wrinkles. Wearing his rancher’s outfit. He could just be some cowboy in from delivering a shipment of beef for the Inner Circle to enjoy.
But now that I’m up close… there’s definitely something off. His skin seems unusually thin. The light is hitting it wrong - it looks like papier-mache, or plaster. With the sun at this angle, I should be able to see some hair, but his cheeks are completely smooth, in the way you see on a healed burn victim. And the eyes. They’re too… perfect. Too glossy. Can’t see a single spot, no striations in the iris, not a single vein. They look like doll’s eyes, not ones grown inside a real human skull.
There’s also the fact that he has no vitae at all. Nothing, not a single wisp or bubble or ray of color. In biomantic terms, this guy is indistinguishable from a toaster or a washing machine. That absence makes him look more and more like an unusually lifelike mannequin the longer my eyes are on him. My brain’s accustomed to the human form always being in the company of its swirling, colored vitae. It’s not here, and the contradiction is making my skin crawl.
He doesn’t move or say anything or react to me in any way. So I guess I’ll start.
“Do you know why I’m here?”
I predicted it. The logical, thinking part of my brain knew that it had to happen at some point. Otherwise, how could this thing have gotten here? But when it moves, when it turns its head away from the window to look at me, I nearly jump out of my fucking skin. Things without vitae aren’t supposed to fucking move unless they also have an engine or an internal reactor. The sight of it, right in front of me, makes my spine want to slither away to a place where creepy shit like this doesn’t happen.
Its eyes are blue, and are not made of flesh. No water or salt or protein. Just glass.
“No. Why are you here?”
My skin is spiders.
Its voice is almost perfect. Almost. Honestly, if I weren’t scrutinizing, I probably wouldn’t even notice. But the lip movements only mostly match the words that came out of that hole. And there’s this tonal incorrectness - a lack of richness, of bass. It sounds very slightly like a lesser-quality recording of a middle-aged man’s voice. Dry, papery, without any impact or lung behind it.
And the thing doesn’t move. Not even a little. A human person trying as hard as they can to be motionless still isn’t - you can’t help the barely-perceptible bob of the head as the heart pumps blood through the chest and neck, you can’t prevent the gradual rise and fall of the chest. Or not for very long, at least. This thing is genuinely, absolutely still, in the way that only an inanimate object can manage.
I want to get this over with. At least an automech has decency enough to look nothing like the humans they get their shape from. Every part of me is convinced this thing shouldn’t exist - my sympathetic nervous system is going into overdrive just from the sheer number of contradictory sensory inputs. I don’t know whether to tear its head off or run screaming out of the building.
A layer of mental concrete pours over my nerves before I reply, “I’m looking for the way to the Library.”
Its tilts its head to one side, face still neutral.
“Why?”
I frown. “Because I want to learn stuff. I’ve heard there’s a lot of good books in the Library. If your boss is okay with me paying a visit, that is.”
“What do you want to learn about?”
I had no idea I was signing up for an interview when I walked in here. But I guess if I was the Librarian I’d be pretty careful too. I pan my eyes around the room before saying a very dirty and controversial word.
“Magic.”
The unusually large doll nods, very slightly. “You are an arcanist.” It says this without any kind of emotion at all. It’s not a question, or an accusation. Just the statement of a fact, with a machine’s confidence. I’m not sure if it guessed or if it somehow knows things from out of thin air. I don’t know. I’m just along for the fucking ride, here.
“... Yeah. Is that a… problem?”
“No. Not intrinsically. The arcanist seeks knowledge of magic. The river flows to the sea. This has happened for many thousands of years. What you seek is power, as knowledge sublimates into power in the mage’s hand. And you seek it in full awareness of the risks. Plainly, the conflux of fate has made you incredibly strong of body, yet you wish for more. Why?”
I really cannot express in succinct words how goddamn unnerving it is to listen to this thing talk. It’s so, so close to being human, but just off the mark. And worse, now it’s trying to get personal with me. “Why do I want power?” “Yes.” “Is that something you need to know?”
“Yes.”
“... Why?”
It laces its fingers together on the table. The motion makes a sound like paper folders sliding over one another.
“Because to the Librarian and to many others, knowledge is also a currency. Sharing it with you is akin to an investment. And within this dynamic, bad investments can become catastrophic. So explain yourself. Or leave.”
Heh. Not the first time I’ve ever had to defend my life. Thankfully, I don’t even have to lie.
“Some bad things might happen to some good people soon. Some people that I know. The stronger I am, the better I can help them. And the more likely it is that I can catch those bad people, to stop them from hurting anyone else.”
The homunculus doesn’t move. “You seek power for altruistic reasons only? To defend the weak from evil?”
I snort. “No. Those same people are also trying to kill me, and I’d like to increase my chances of making it out of all this with my bones still connected to one another. Self-preservation motivates me just as much as anything else.”
“And once the danger has passed? What will you do with your power then?”
… Huh. There’s a cutting question. Frankly, I’m so used to living in this exact second that I hadn’t stopped to consider what life might be like once all this is said and done. If I don’t die, the things I learn could turn me into… something else. More, than I ever had the impetus or inclination to become before. New abilities could be great. Or they could be a horrible curse, in the end. I don’t really care. It just has to happen. The future can show up at its own pace.
“I don’t know. I honestly hadn’t thought about it. But I’m probably not going to try to overturn the Reclamation or anything. Way too much work. And I just don’t care enough.”
The homunculus’s not-eyes stay on my not-eyes for a heavy second. I’m not sure what it’s trying to see. I don’t even know if it can see anything. But honestly, I don’t know a goddamn thing. That’s why I showed up here in the first place.
It finally replies, “What have you brought?”
I swing my backpack around and lay the books on the table. Carefully. While looking around to make sure the law hasn’t walked through the door in the last few minutes.
The thing glances down for a split second, looks back at me, and says, “There are multiple copies of these volumes within the Library. The Librarian has no need of more.”
I rub my face with my hands exasperatedly. I knew it was a long shot. I was told as much. But the idea that I came all the way out here for nothing is really mashing my potatoes something fierce.
“Y’know… I’m betting you guys could save a lot of wasted time by just putting out a damn registry of what you do and don’t have.”
“The Librarian has infinite time. And a public listing would be traceable. You have nothing else to offer?”
I take a big slug of my beer and clunk the tankard down on the table, eyes looking directly at the core of the earth. I don’t have anything else to offer. I don’t have a goddamn thing. For the Librarian or Em or to anyone else. Maybe I should leave the city. Just… fuck right off and go be a monster in the mountains. No need for money, no need for cars or property or paperwork. Fuck it, all of it. At least then I could punch bears to death and terrorize villages and feel like something. Win at least some animal glory using nothing but the contents of my own-
Wait.
The contents of my own body.
My lenses snap back up to the doll. “You’ll take media other than print, right?”
“Yes.”
I reach into my coat and whip out a blank data drive and a transfer cable.
It’s a hell of a thing, being able to record literally everything you see. It makes it much more difficult for other people to call you a liar when you can literally show them what you saw, right out of your own eyes. That’s why I keep these on me. I don’t have to use them often, but in my lines of work it’s helpful to be able to prove my experiences to people with footage hot out of the brain boiler.
One end of the cable goes into the drive, and the other stabs directly into a port at the rear of my occipital lobe.
For the record, it is the peak of stupid for anyone with a cerebral array to just shove connectors into their skull without sanitizing them first, unless they happen to be a huge fan of aggressive meningitis. For reasons already explained, however, I do not have to give a damp hoot. Microbes are idiots. I am the bastard fuckspawn of magic and technology and I will not be stopped.
I hit a little switch on the side of the drive and wait a second for it to boot up. Unstoppably.
The light turns green and there’s a spasm of connection errors and driver misfires across my vision. My automatic interface software shows up with a gun and calmly explains to them that nobody has to get hurt as long as I get access to this drive right the hell now. The warnings and errors hold up their hands and reply that everything’s good here man, no need to do anything drastic. They show me to the door.
The drive connects.
This sensation is very hard to describe for anyone that’s never used their brain to talk to machines before. This is just a blank drive. Empty space. A clean warehouse in a white void, just patiently waiting for someone to put something into it. And right now, it’s connected directly to my brain. It has physically made the total volume of my brain larger. Not more full, not better at processing data or anything, just bigger.
Imagine you’re hanging out minding your own business in your living room, sipping coffee and reading a book or whatnot. Then, for no reason, a huge door appears in your wall and opens, revealing a colossal amount of empty space in a huge room that wasn’t there before. That weird sudden shift of air pressure and subtle echo of newfound hugeness is kind of what this feels like. It’s unsettling, because the brain was never meant to receive these kinds of inputs in this specific order.
This is right around where a lot of people puke, because the conflicting sensory data causes the brain to go completely haywire. It’s like motion sickness or vertigo - there’s a sense of something physical that just happened, despite the fact that the information from my eyes and ears tells me that I’m very much still sitting in a booth at a bar across from a freaky golem. I close my eyes. Less incoming information to try and juggle.
I can’t upload literally everything, because that much video would take days to compress and upload. But I’ve got a different solution.
After about a minute, I have my autoconnect software let the poor drive management programs go, and take my leave. I yank the cord from my head. This causes a painfully loud SNAP in my ear, makes my vision flash lightning-white for a moment, and puts a taste like liquid copper on my tongue. I bump my head with the palm of my hand once, and the static clears from my eyes.
I turn the drive off and push it across the table toward the human facsimile. Then I point at it for emphasis.
“That is an autotranscripted text log of every single conscious thought I’ve had since I was eighteen. That’s eleven years of a person’s life, straight from the source. The parts where I’m drunk are probably full of spelling errors. However, the autotranscript program might have processed some of my dreams, if they were vivid enough. So that’s something.”
The homunculus just tilts its head at me, like a dog that’s heard a funny noise. “And why would the Librarian be interested in this?”
“I have no idea. But I can promise you he doesn’t already have a copy - I’m one of a kind. Tell him to read it and find out.”
The thing regards me silently for another long moment. Then it takes the drive and puts it in a coat pocket.
“... Very well, Mr. Featherlight. The Library thanks you for your contribution.”
It holds out a tiny business card. I try to take it, but its other hand whips up like a striking viper and clamps around my wrist. Its fingers can’t make it the whole way round (my wrists are as wide around as some people’s biceps), but the sheer force of its fingers digging into the meat of my arm is enough to make me grunt in pain.
“But know this. Should you choose to disclose this information to another living soul, you will cease to exist. There are eyes everywhere. Be wise.”
There’s still nothing in its eyes. That’s the face of an accountant showing up to his 15,936th day of work.
Its hydraulic hand lets go of my arm, and I have to actually fight back tears from how fucking bad it hurts. If I’d been anyone else, that amount of pressure would have squeezed clean through the meat and bone of my innocent limb like a fat divorcee through ice cream. It gently places the rectangular card into my palm, gets up, and leaves the bar.
Okay.
I’m just gonna finish my beer, and pretend for just a few precious moments that I’m a guy that was never cursed with an interesting life.

[here's the previous chapter] [and here's the entire story so far on Wattpad if that's what gargles your marbles] [if you've enjoyed this tale ive woven, why not give me a tip? it's good to support writers you like ♥] [and thanks for reading ♥]
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Sympathy for Lanre

The chapter is titled "Lanre Turned" and it's Skarpi's story of Lanre and Selitos. It's a story about a namer who lost an eye and gained a better sight. It's also a story about a man skilled with a sword who relies on the strength of his arm.
Lanre had fought since he could lift a sword, and by the time his voice began to crack he was the equal of a dozen older men.
It's about the Creation War but we are missing a key piece of information. Not only are there namers, there are shapers. Shapers who not only see a thing and understand it, they seek mastery over it and change it. PR has made the comment that there are a whole cvilization of these people. It's not just a few. In the middle of all this is Lanre, who appears to be just a man with no skill at naming. In some ways Lanre is a man walking beside gods.
 
But Lanre is going to need a source of power. Presumably to bring Lyra back. We know he gets it and seemingly does something rash or thoughtless with it. Ben reinforces this idea when Kvothe gets a double lesson on the dangers of being thoughtless.
Ben taught me others. A dozen dozen sympathetic bindings. A hundred little tricks for channeling power. ... Ben continued giving me a smattering of lessons in other areas: history, arithmetic, and chemistry. But I grabbed at whatever he could teach me about sympathy... I don't mean to imply that the road was always smooth. The same curiosity that made me such an eager student also led me into trouble with fair regularity.
 
Quick, what "trouble" is Kvothe referring to? If your first thought was binding the air to his lungs, you would be wrong. His mother overhears the Lackless rhyme.
“It's nothing to cry over, sweet one. Just remember to always think about what you're doing.”
 
Kvothe is being thoughtless. Ben is going to tell him the same thing the day he binds the air to his lungs.
In hindsight, what I had done was glaringly stupid. When I bound my breath to the air outside, it made it impossible for me to breathe.
Now it's time for Ben to lecture Kvothe and Lanre is the object lesson.
“I'm doing this all wrong. Never mind your father's song. We'll talk about it after he finishes it. Knowing Lanre's story might give you some perspective.” ... “What if you give him a sword?”
Realization started to dawn on me, and I closed my eyes. “More, much more. I understand, Ben. Really I do. Power is okay, and stupidity is usually harmless. Power and stupidity together are dangerous.”
“I never said stupid,” Ben corrected me. “You're clever. We both know that. But you can be thoughtless. A clever, thoughtless person is one of the most terrifying things there is. Worse, I've been teaching you some dangerous things.
 
If you walk away from Ben's conversation with the knowledge that Lanre did something thoughtless you would be right. But that's just half the picture. Lanre was clever. In Denna's version of the song, he cleverly tricks Selitos.
Selitos was a tyrant, an insane monster who tore out his own eye in fury at Lanre’s clever trickery.
  Tricking Selitos was clever, but it wasn't thoughtless. Lanre needs to DO something clever and do it in a thoughtless way.
 
Lanre was dead. Lyra wept brokenly and touched his face with trembling hands. All around men turned their heads, because the bloody field was less horrible to look upon than Lyra's grief.
But Lanre heard her calling. Lanre turned at the sound of her voice and came to her. From beyond the doors of death Lanre returned.
By sheer force of will Lanre turned and came to her. It's actually his act, more than hers. Lyra had given up. That same will he sets to bringing Lyra back when she dies. But just his will won't be enough.
 

Lanre needs power.

Selitos, his eyes unveiled, looked at his friend. He saw how Lanre, nearly mad with grief, had sought the power to bring Lyra back to life again. Out of love for Lyra, Lanre had sought knowledge where knowledge is better left alone, and gained it at a terrible price.
Despite having no ability with names, Lanre gains power through knowledge. Lanre has learned something or been taught something. It's power unrecognizable and foreign to all the namers walking around. Namers and shapers who have always relied on their naming abilities and nothing else.
Lanre becomes a sympathist.
 
There's a great example we are given of someone being bound with sympathy.
Kvothe grabs a hair from Devi to use for his binding.
As I came into the room I tripped on the threshold, stumbling clumsily into her and resting one hand briefly on her shoulder as I steadied myself.
Lanre puts his hand on Selitos' shoulder.
Lanre turned and placed his hand on Selitos' shoulder. “Silanxi, I bind you...”
 
Devi gets control of the mommet and replaces the hair Kvothe took with his own hair.
Devi picked up the doll and replaced her hair with several of my own. She muttered a binding. ... But Devi had heat to spare right now, and her binding was like being shut in an iron vise. I couldn’t move my arms or legs, or jaw, or tongue. I could barely breathe, only taking tiny, shallow breaths that didn’t require any movement of my chest.
Notice how similar the outcome is to Selitos (while reminding us that Lanre has no gift for names).
Lanre had no gift for names - his power lay in the strength of his arm. For him to attempt to bind Selitos by his name would be as fruitless as a boy attacking a soldier with a willow stick. Nevertheless, Lanre's power lay on him like a great weight, like a vise of iron, and Selitos found himself unable to move or speak. He stood, still as stone and could do nothing but marvel: how had Lanre come by such power?
Selitos is a namer who thinks in terms of naming. He has no understanding of sympathy, that's why he can't recognize or understand Lanre's power. At the beginning I mentioned this was a story about namers that left out something crucial: shaping. If you are telling a story about namers, everything gets viewed from that perspective. The story itself isn't willing to acknowledge anything but naming. Knowing that shaping and sympathy exist, is it possible that what actually happened is Lanre spoke sympathetic bindings while the story portrays it in the only perspective Selitos would understand? This is why Selitos thinks his sight fails him - because he doesn't understand sympathy, even though Lanre allowed him his sight. Sympathy is power to anyone with a will and knows the correct bindings.
“Silanxi, I bind you. By the name of stone, be still as stone. Aeruh, I command the air. Lay leaden on your tongue. Selitos, I name you. May all your powers fail you but your sight.”
 

What Lanre planned with his power

Some even said Lanre had killed himself and gone searching for his wife in the land of the dead.
Lanre is a man who has commanded other men and stood side-by-side with namers. He married one of the greatest namers of the time. Lanre has come back from the dead through sheer force of will. Now he is setting his will to bring Lyra back. And I'm willing to bet Lanre has a will like the sea in storm. Instead of will, let's call it what it really is: alar.
He has the alar and knowledge of the sympathetic bindings. He needs to kill himself, which isn't much of an impediment. It's the return that's the difficult part. And there's another issue. When he dies, all his bindings will be broken...
How odd to watch a mortal kindle Then to dwindle day by day. Knowing their bright souls are tinder And the wind will have its way. Would I could my own fire lend. What does your flickering portend?
When Lanre's light goes out, his bindings will fail. There's a third thing Lanre needs for sympathy and it solves all his problems: a power source. It needs to be extremely powerful and it can't be exhausted like Devi's poor-boy.
Lanre needs an ever-burning lamp.
 

Lanre's power source

When Kvothe is in Haert he takes water from the hot springs as a potential energy source.
A small stoppered bottle of water from the baths. I closed my fist tightly around the last. Most people don’t understand how much heat water holds inside it. That is why it takes so long to boil. Despite the fact that the scalding-hot pool I had pulled this from was more than half a mile away, what I held in my hand was of better use to a sympathist than a glowing coal.
 
An ever-burning lamp would provide an endless supply of energy for a sympathist to tap into. But the closest we get to them are Kilvin's experiments.
 
No sympathy. I do not want an ever-glowing lamp. I want an ever-burning one.” (Kilvin-NotW Ch.36)
There's a clear difference between ever-glowing and ever-burning. Kilvin seem to believe that to be ever-burning it cannot be made with sympathy. So why no sympathy? Because bindings will eventually be broken? I'm not sure how sympathy can still give you an ever-glowing lamp, but for now let's assume a process other than sympathy is required for an ever-burning lamp.
After a moment of maneuvering through the maze of timber and iron, we came to the hanging row of glass spheres with fires burning inside them.
“These,” Kilvin gestured, “are my lamps.”
It was only then that I realized what they were. Some were filled with liquid and wicking, much like ordinary lamps, but most of them were utterly unfamiliar. One contained nothing but a boiling grey smoke that flickered sporadically. Another sphere contained a wick hanging in empty air from a silver wire, burning with a motionless white flame despite its apparent lack of fuel.
Two hanging side by side were twins save that one had a blue flame and the other was a hot-forge-orange. Some were small as plums, others large as melons. One held what looked like a piece of black coal and a piece of white chalk, and where the two pieces were pressed together, an angry red flame burned outward in all directions.
Kilvin let me look for a long while before he moved closer. “Among the Cealdar there are legends of ever-burning lamps. I believe that such a thing was once within the scope of our craft. Ten years I have been looking. I have made many lamps, some of them very good, very long burning.” He looked at me. “But none of them ever-burning.”
He walked down the line to point at one of the hanging spheres. “Do you know this one, E'lir Kvothe?” It held nothing but a knob of greenish-greyish wax that was burning with a greenish-greyish tongue of flame. I shook my head.
“Hmmm. You should. White lithium salt. I thought of it three span before you came to us. It is good so far, twenty-four days and I expect many more.” He looked at me. “Your guessing this thing surprised me, as it took me ten years to think of it. Your second guess, sodium oil, was not as good. I tried it years ago. Eleven days.”
 
An ever-burning lamp that is self-contained, small as a plum, and potentially made with salt. An easily portable source of energy a sympathist can draw from that never burns out.
 
If an ever-burning lamp can be made with salt, is that another clue in Haliax's name?
Hal- in Latin can mean "breath". But it can also mean salt.
You can see this in the naming of common rock salt which is Halite.
Lackless keeps her husband's rocks
Okay maybe not that one. But...
I sow salt because the choice is between weeds and nothing
and
“No,” said Lanre. He stood to his full height, his face regal behind the lines of grief. “There is nothing sweet. I will sow salt, lest the bitter weeds grow.”
 

Clever and Thoughtless

And here's where Lanre gets clever and thoughtless: Lanre finds a way to bind himself to an ever-burning lamp.
 
It fits the imagery of a power burning in Lanre.
But just as Lyra's love had drawn him back from past the final door before, so this time Lanre's power forced him to return from sweet oblivion. His new-won power burned him back into his body, forcing him to live. ...
“I can kill you,” Selitos said, then looked away from Lanre's expression suddenly hopeful. “For an hour, or a day. But you would return, pulled like iron to a loden-stone. Your name burns with the power in you. I can no more extinguish it than I could throw a stone and strike down the moon.”
It gives him a limitless power source for his sympathy and ensures his light will never go out (so to speak). It allows him to return from the dead, because the sympathetic binding holds that Lanre is like an ever-burning lamp and cannot be extinguished. But something goes wrong. Maybe the binding is made permanent because of the lamp's nature. Perhaps he didn't consider some facet of it, like Kvothe binding the air to his lungs. Perhaps he had to make the binding so tight to work, he couldn't get it undore. Maybe someone stole his ever-burning lamp and hid it away, forcing Lanre to live eternal.
 

Other considerations

BROKEN SWORDS
Whether or not copper actually has a name is a debate for another time. Personally I suspect it does. I believe that's why stories sometimes differ on sword composition. It's relative to the time and event. Lanre carries a silver sword because namers of silver are extremely rare or he is planning to encounter someone he knows can't name silver. Same with Marten's story of Taborlin and the copper sword.
A copper sword is a great way to kill a namer ... because he can't name copper. But isn't that true of any material provided the individual can't name it? Sympathy makes the copper debate irrelevant. A copper sword is useless against a sympathist with the right materials and bindings. Consider Kvothe and the fake Ruh, merely picture copper instead of iron:
But I was ready. I slid a second long, brittle piece of sword-iron into my hand and muttered a binding. Then, just as he came close enough to strike I snapped the iron sharply between my fingers. His sword shattered with the sound of a broken bell, and the pieces tumbled and disappeared in the dark grass.
Perhaps this is why Haliax is associated with broken sword imagery? No sword can stand against him. I'm not sure how the Adem swords fit in with this. Perhaps they were shaped, perhaps they are a sympathy equivalent to 'nameless', they are 'bindless'. Although it does appear there is foreshadowing that Kvothe is going to break one.
 
LACKLESS RHYME
The first lecture Kvothe gets on being thoughtless was for reciting this rhyme.
One a sharp word, not for swearing (a spoken binding) Right beside her husband's candle (ever-burning) There's a door without a handle In a box, no lid or locks Lackless keeps her husband's rocks (a plum-sized ever-burning lamp)
It could explain possibly a glass object in the Lackless box.
I closed my eyes and listened to the padded thump of its contents moving in the box. “No. By the weight of it, perhaps something made of glass or stone.”
Kvothe carries a coal from a fire and water from the baths to link back to a source. Could Lanre have hidden his lamp away to keep it safe and kept a link with him? One kept safe in a box and one to carry to draw energy from.
Distance would be an issue. But if your goal is to die and travel to a metaphysical realm. Your body isn't traveling. Perhaps having a link to take into the realm of the dead is similar to how many ancient cultures (Egypt, Maya, Norse, etc.) filled their tombs with objects to use in the afterlife.
 
ALEPH'S FIRE
Did Aleph do something similar, except instead of a sympathetic binding, he shaped the fire as part of the Ruach?
Then Aleph spoke their long names and they were wreathed in a white fire. The fire danced along their wings and they became swift. The fire flickered in their eyes and they saw into the deepest hearts of men. The fire filled their mouths and they sang songs of power. Then the fire settled on their foreheads like silver stars and they became at once righteous and wise and terrible to behold. Then the fire consumed them and they were gone forever from mortal sight.
 
INNER TURNINGS
“Who knows the inner turnings of your name, Cinder?”
This seems to imply Haliax is able to use Cinder's name against him.
I can think of a couple of possible explanations for this if I really wanted to grasp at straws. I've always thought Selitos cursed them by their true calling names. Ferule, Stercus, etc. That's what Haliax is actually manipulating Cinder with. Speaking their names causes them actual physical pain.
Which brings up another issue, why doesn't Cinder just do the same to Alaxel? Maybe he doesn't actually know Haliax's true calling name. Or perhaps the person who is Haliax today isn't the same person from the story...
There's a question that's been nagging at me and it is rooted in Shehyn's story. If Cinder ==> Ferul(a/e) ... and Haliax ==> Alaxel ... then who exactly was Lanre?
 
UNDER SHADOW FALLING
This is my doom upon you. May your face be always held in shadow, black as the toppled towers of my beloved Myr Tariniel.
If Lanre is basically an ever-burning lamp, how fitting is it that Selitos curses him with darkness?
 
IAX
 
How does Iax fit into any of this, if at all?
 
TL:DR Having no power with names, Lanre becomes a sympathist seeking to bring Lyra back from the dead. He binds himself to an ever-burning lamp in a clever but thoughtless use of sympathy that he can't undo.
 
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The HEL Jumper [Chapter 3.13]

Book 1 of The HEL Jumper
Book 2 of The HEL Jumper
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“Good morning, First Lieutenant. And you must be Veera? I was told to expect the both of you. Please be seated anywhere you like,” the short, thin gentleman offered, gesturing around his office. It was the oddest and most anachronistic portion of the ship Winters had visited by far, though in that particular case it was not a bad thing. Instead it was an indication that Natori Kaczynski had taken the mental health of his crew into careful consideration when implementing his vision for the Event Horizon. Instead of a sleek, modern cube of metal or plastic polymer, he felt like he’d been transported to a row home in some quaint European city. The floor was richly carpeted by oriental or persian rugs, he didn’t know which. The walls were done up with unassuming, muted green wallpaper, and the moulding and ceiling varnished wood. Bookshelves lined the perimeter of the space, punctuated by a stone bust of an unknown man, a display case of historical medical implements, and a vase on a pedestal that contained what appeared to be live flowers. That particular fixture was of utter fascination to Veera, and with a squeeze of her hand she left Russell’s side to examine them.
“How strange and beautiful,” she murmured, testing the delicate petals of the orchid with her fingertips and giving the plant itself a curious sniff. As she did so Russell watched her closely, and in turn the ship’s psychologist, one Doctor Lamont, watched him. It had been impossible to miss the soldier’s stone-faced expression upon his arrival, but seeing it soften was both curious and reassuring to the medical professional. That the alien spoke english with apparent comfort was also a pleasant surprise.
“Do you not have flowers on your world?” He asked gently.
“No, we do not,” Veera replied. “My husband tells me that our forests are like those of the northern reaches of your planet. Pine trees?”
“Yeah, those are the ones,” Russell affirmed. “That specific type of flower there is an orchid.”
“It’s wonderful. I’m sorry for interrupting,” Veera offered.
“My dear, please! We are here to talk, and unless the two of you have somewhere else you need to be I see no reason why we shouldn’t begin with flowers,” Lamont replied before looking about curiously. “The Admiral informed me that I should expect a rather...unusual guest, as he put it? Given that it does not seem to be an alien I cannot help but wonder.”
‘That would be me,’ Io offered, utilizing the speaker concealed in the ceiling to make her presence known. ‘Due to the lack of projection technology in this room you will simply have to take my word for it. My name is Io. I used to be Lieutenant Winters’ VI partner and I am now his best friend, AI companion, and solemn holder of the trials he has faced while on Mara.’
“And that is, of course, the other reason we are here,” Lamont acknowledged, gesturing to a couple of chairs and a chaise lounge straight out of a twentieth century psychologist’s office. “Please, do make yourselves comfortable wherever you like. I will ask our esteemed Admiral about this apparent leap forward in human technological prowess another time.”
Veera, being a lover of soft things as with most of her species, was happy to be seated upon the recliner, though she did not lay back. Russell didn’t seem to mind, instead choosing the least comfortable looking chair in the room as Lamont was seated on his own, wheeled out from behind his wooden desk. He had a pencil and notebook in hand.
“You don’t mind, do you? I prefer the old ways.”
“Whatever works for you, doc,” Russell replied stoically.
“I presume you would not enjoy hearing how I am here to help you and that I am someone you may consider a confidant?” Lamont offered.
“Not when I know damn well everything said here is going to be a matter of semi-public record at my tribunal hearing,” the soldier said sternly.
“Russell! He’s just here to help!” Veera interrupted. Doctor Lamont watched and waited as the human looked at the alien that claimed to be his wife.
“It’s more complicated than that, Veera,” he eventually said.
“You are here to help my husband, right?” The Cauthan rounded on Lamont. He nodded.
“I can assure you I am, Veera. However, the fact that this is a military matter does, as the Lieutenant said, complicate things. I am required to report to the Admiral my personal evaluation of his mental state, fitness for duty, and to opine on the events that have brought us all to this juncture. But when this is over, Lieutenant, know that my door will remain open to you in confidence.”
“Yeah let’s just…can we get on with it?” Russell requested. The feeling that he was somewhere outside of the HEL despite knowing very well where he was did not sit well with him.
“We may indeed. Veera, Io, I would like to ask the two of you to stop me at any time should you feel the need to interject or pose a question. However, I would also request that you allow the Lieutenant to speak uninterrupted. Is that acceptable to the two of you?”
“Yes,” both Veera and Io replied, the former feeling her feathers rustle slightly. There was something off about the situation, something that made her nervous. She didn’t think Doctor Lamont a threat, but there was no denying that he was something other than a friend. She would have preferred Russell be speaking with Antoth.
“Thank you. Lieutenant I have already reviewed your files up until your arrival in this system when the Lancer was destroyed. Your combat actions and evaluations during that mission were retrieved so we need not address those matters unless you feel it necessary. Do you think you could start at the beginning and tell me about the important things that happened to you since you arrived here?”
Winters took a deep breath and rested his forehead on his thumb and two fingers, rubbing his head for a moment before looking back to the psychologist who was waiting for him patiently. “Yeah, might as well get this over with.”
-----
“I still can’t believe you named an alien bat Steve,” Private Orlova groused as she and the rest of her squad left the armory after almost two days on Mara. They could have remained far longer, but Natori had insisted that they return to the ship to exercise, eat, and otherwise maintain a semblance of their normal routine. He had assured them that they would be given an opportunity to explore the Forge once the research teams were prepared to actually enter the structure, and that Steve the aquila would be well cared for in the camp while they were gone. The question of diet had been taken up happily by a handful of the Event Horizon’s crew, given that research on the Forge and the rest of its surroundings would have to be painstakingly conducted in a systematic manner. Tracking down various plants and insects to see which ones a scaled bat preferred to munch on was practically chaos by comparison. Rex laughed as he locked away his skull-painted helmet
“You’re just jealous because you didn’t think of it first. I’m starving guys, should we see what Gus has cooked up? Should be just about lunchtime.”
“Always thinking with your stomach,” Mendes remarked, earning him a punch in the shoulder.
“Don’t act like you’re not. Lipp?”
“What am I, your boss? Go ahead if you want! The Admiral said our next brief will take place tonight, probably just a review and discussion of future plans. Science is so damn slow.”
“Which is why we are soldiers and not scientists,” Natalya concluded as the four of them stepped out into the hallways of the ship, only to be met by a very peculiar pair. A victorious grin spread across Lipper’s face.
“Well well well, if it isn’t the fluffer nutter. I don’t think we’ve ever met personally,” he said more than loudly enough for Winters and Veera to hear. The Omega Jumper had been taking his wife on a tour of the ship following a lengthy review of his stay on Mara. There had been discussion of the good, but the focus was on things he would have rather forgotten: Jess’ death, the crew’s funeral, the raid, and the slaying of the ursae. Io appeared in his visor immediately, clad in her barbarian armor and having already painted her face with blood.
‘If you don’t, I will,’ she informed him. That comment earned her a glare from Russell, who silently walked up to the four Jumpers. He was the tallest.
“That’s First Lieutenant or Sir to you…Sergeant,” he growled, making a show of looking Lipper up and down. His face showed he was none too impressed. Lipper scoffed.
“Do you see the Admiral around here? Cause I sure as hell don’t, Omega. I’ve been down on that planet. I ain’t scared of you, and I sure as hell ain’t kissing the boots of a guy who spend the better part of a year sitting around in the sun and fucking the locals.”
A thousand and one retorts came to Winters’ lips, many of which Io was supplying in rapid succession and a few of which had come from his teenage years and Alice. Instead he turned his back to them, a blatant display of fearlessness, and walked away, taking Veera by the hand. “Let’s get out of here before I kill one of them,” he told her evenly. Veera couldn’t help but look over her shoulder at the squad of four. The woman and the shortest among them, a man with bronze skin, looked concerned. But the other two who looked more similar to Russell had gleeful expressions on their face.
“Hey cutie, if you ever feel like bedding a real man I think Private Mendes over here is feeling pretty open minded after being planetside,” Lipper called out, taking the opportunity to rib one of his own at Winters’ expense. Veera tore herself away from Russell and marched right up to them.
“I know what laying with a man is like, and need only glance at you to know you would not satisfy me in the slightest!” She yelled hotly, bringing a truly surprised look to the Sergeant’s face for the first time. Behind her it was Winters’ turn to smile viciously with a watchful eye as Veera continued her tirade while Rex muttered ‘shit, she speaks English?!’.
“I would rather be set upon by a pack of hyrven than lay with you. You are nothing more than a cub at his first harvest festival who thinks only of himself, and I feel bad for these other three humans who are forced to follow you,” she asserted, understanding easily enough that the four humans in front of her were like her husband in terms of their training at least, and that Lipper was their commander.
“I’m not going to ask twice. You take that back,” the Sergeant warned.
“Oh, and now you’re threatening a primitive female? How manly and brave of you,” Veera taunted, well versed in the art of verbal sparring after spending more than a few cycles with the town's guard force.
“And were it not for us, your primitive little village would have been wiped off the map!”
“Lipper, that’s enough man! Jesus Cristo,” Mendes insisted, watching Russell like a hawk. The look in his eyes gave the Private chills.
“That’s Sergeant to you, Private Mendes!”
“And my name is Veera to you, human! You are no better than the Ghaelen who threatened us. Just another petty chieftain!”
The next events of the next few seconds seemed both an instant and eternity to Private Orlova, who up until that point had remained silent. The moment Lipper’s hand shot out and wrapped around Veera’s wrist the Omega Jumper leapt to action, clearing the distance between him and their group with frightening speed. Veera’s heart hammered, slamming into her chest as her body reacted the way her inner animal wanted her to. She wanted to hurt the human who had so insulted her husband and her people, but again and again Russell had taught her to play to her strengths and an enemy’s weakness. The sad reality was that Lipper was far too large for her to win a fair fight. But she knew that just once, and only once, she would have the element of surprise. After all, he clearly saw her as a zero on the threat scale. With a snarl, Veera swiped at him, knowing he would likely stop her. When he did, she twisted and danced, trying to circle behind him while moving his arms into a less defensive position. It was mostly unsuccessful and she cried out in pain as a couple of her feathers were irrevocably bent in the wrong direction, but the momentary opening was all Russell needed.
‘VENGEANCE!’ Io roared with unabashed bloodlust, encouraging her partner. Both Veera and Natalya gasped as Winters slugged Lipper so hard the cracking of his jaw was audible. The Sergeant’s grip on Veera went slack as he crumpled to the metal floor in a heap, releasing her to find a safe distance as the situation spiraled out of control.
“Oh you’re fucking dead, Omega bitch!” Rex roared, taking a swing at Winters that the Jumper was clearly ready for.
“Any day, Beta Boy. Who or what are you overcompensating for, you walking slab of meat? Maybe your sorry excuse for a commanding officer?” Russell taunted, squaring up as punches began to fly. Rex wasn’t holding back in the slightest, but that didn’t matter to him. He’d seen all of his moves before.
“You aren’t gonna look so hot when you’re out cold on your ass,” the Beta Jumper insisted, throwing a vicious uppercut that Russell was forced to block, hardening his core as the follow up blow landed. The pain was good. He laughed.
“So they’ve got Howles training Beta now? What the fuck did he do to deserve that?” Winters jabbed, making reference to one of the men who had shaped his own development as an HEL soldier. Slowly he shifted into the combat style of Antoth and his men. There was no point in fighting like a human, especially when the Jumper in front of him was fighting the way he was, a proficient carbon copy of several HEL instructors. “Seen it,” he quipped, ducking under a left hook before rolling backwards to avoid the uppercut that had laid him out on the second day of Jumper training. Rex was good, he had to admit, and the man was strong, but he was not innovative.
“Fuck. You!” The Private roared, landing another couple of brutal but not debilitating hits. Russell shrugged them off, continuing to dance around Rex as the dull, bludgeoning pain awakened his senses. He was reminded of his fight with Kaha at the harvest festival, though he opted for a much different resolution. When the next punch came he blocked with both hands, forcefully pushing a hole open in Rex’s guard and sending his head through it. With a roar that would have made Antoth proud, Russell crushed Rex’s nose with his own cranium. Completely unprepared for the nature of the attack and resulting pain, Rex staggered long enough for Winters to grab his head and force it down into a vicious strike from his knee. Two more similar strikes to the Beta Jumper’s diaphragm had him on the ground coughing like he was about to choke up one of his own lungs, unable to breathe through his horribly contorted nose. That was when Russell rounded on Natalya with fury in his eyes. It had been a long time since he’d taken or dished out such brutal hits against other humans with no rules.
“Russell! Stop this!” Veera tried meekly.
“Not interested,” Orlova scoffed, arms across her chest as she looked over the men with disgust.
“You think I fucking care?!” Winters roared. “I thought you were supposed to be a Jumper!”
“I’m going to have to insist we dance instead, Lieutenant, though I admit I’m not nearly so attractive as Natalya,” Mendes interrupted, grabbing Winters’ arm in a competent grapple that forced him to turn away from Veera and Orlova. “In my country we all learn to dance from the time we can walk. You’re quite the partner.”
“I’m going to enjoy grinding you into dust, Private,” Winters snarled, a carnivorous smile on his face as the two men circled for a moment and then clashed, grappling and wrestling as Veera finally composed herself enough to attempt to finish what she started.
“Io!” She yelled. “Stop them!”
“What in the world is Io?” Orlova demanded.
‘Oh very well. I guess we’ve already taken out half of them,’ the AI groused. ‘And Mendes was polite enough. I’d hate to see him die.’
“IO! And get Antoth too!” Veera insisted, terrified that Io’s joke might possibly come true. All she had wanted to do was put an uppity human in his place. She could barely hear Io over the grunting of Mendes and Winters as they toppled to the ground in some perverse imitation of a scrum between guards.
‘That will be more difficult, but I’m on it…’
-----
“Io, a pleasure to see you! Has Lieutenant Winters finished his evaluation? What are you up to now?” Natori wondered as the beautiful woman appeared on his display. To his shock and confusion she quickly dressed herself as something out of a metal show back on Earth, or perhaps Halloween.
‘THE ESTABLISHMENT OF DOMINANCE!’ Io roared, causing every human on the bridge as well as Qul’Roth, who was working back into his old routine, to stare at her with open mouths. ‘No seriously, my Jumper is kicking the shit out of your Jumpers. Get down to the armory now.’
Natori was halfway to the door before she finished. “Turnwell…I may need another coffee later.”
“Not a problem sir,” the First Mate replied sympathetically.
“Admiral…”
“Envoy, please leave violence to the humans,” Kaczynski insisted before turning his back and sprinting off. The Ghaelen nodded to himself.
“I believe I’ll do just that. Perhaps I can pay engineer Prakash in hydroponics a visit?”
-----
“Anytime you want to quit, just say it,” Winters gasped for air, slamming his fist into Mendes’ side. The Brazilian Jumper had him in a surprisingly firm chokehold, but it was costing him dearly.
“Not on…your life,” Mendes grunted. Russell was about to promise just that when a booming voice filled the corridors.
“That is enough!” Admiral Kaczynski roared. “Lieutenant Winters, Private Mendes, opposite walls, now!”
Exhausted and not wanting to push their luck, the two men did just that, standing on each side of the corridor as Alice of all people looked on from Naotri’s wrist-mounted device. “Admiral, what’s going on? You said the hail was urgent? I found Antoth. Ratha is here as well.”
“I would like to know that myself,” Natori muttered darkly, looking around to find Lipper unconscious, Rex clutching his abdomen, and the two women standing by. Natalya was explaining to Veera that they should not move Lipper due to the potential of aggravating possible injuries to his head or spinal column. “Veera, Natalya, I would like the two of you to explain what happened here.”
“Yes sir,” Natalya replied, pushing Veera gently forward with her. “You will not be in trouble, Cauthan. Speak the truth only.”
It took not five minutes for the story to be derailed the moment that Veera revealed that Lipper had laid his hands on her.
“Veera!” Ratha yelled, barging into view on the projection from Mara that hovered above Natori’s wrist. “Get over here now!”
“Ratha, what the hell are you-”
“Shut up, scarface! When you’re rightfully furious you can come back. Until then I will defend my people since you refuse to! Veera, let me see your feathers now. Where did he grab you? This vision is blurry!” Out of respect for her leaders and not wanting to make more of a fuss, Veera held out her arm. “It hurts, doesn’t it?” Ratha asked quietly, placing her nose as close as possible to Alice’s display.
“Of course, Ratha. That does not mean I intend to cry about it,” Veera replied, peeved at being treated like a cub. The hallway fell deathly silent as the Huntress ‘rounded’ on Natori.
“You, human chieftain! You will execute the male who laid his hands on her or I will; make your choice!” They could all see the angry flare of Ratha’s crest before Antoth reprimanded her.
“Ratha!”
“Don’t you dare! She is one of us, Antoth! You cannot allow this to stand! If he were one of our kind you would be flogging him in the square right now! They will never respect us if they do not fear us.”
“And when you are Sun Priest you may choose to rule by fear if you think them the same!” Antoth boomed with barely contained rage. “Until then you will remember yourself, Huntress. Admiral…your soldier has put me in a very difficult position.”
Natori cast a glance at Lipper’s body, assuring himself that at least his chest was rising and falling. An alert popped up in his inbox. “Io, not now.”
‘I believe this will be necessary when this is all finished,’ the AI replied simply before stepping back out of the projection. He saw she had composed a shipwide email with a text file attachment. It was marked highest priority. Natori pinched the bridge of his nose. A headache was forming there as Mendes and Winters looked on with morbid interest. If anything, Russell was more shocked than the Beta Jumper. Ratha had treated Veera as one of her own.
“Antoth, if Sergeant Lipper were one of your people, what would happen to him?” Natori asked fearfully.
“Death!” Ratha shrieked.
“GET. OUT!” Antoth’s voice somehow grew louder still.
“We are in my temple, you unbearable mate of mine!”
“OUT!” The Sun Priest seethed as Ratha drew her knife and waved it at the screen. Alice felt like running as fast as her legs could carry her.
“I will not forget this, human,” she warned before storming off, her pregnant belly doing nothing to diffuse the aura of malice surrounding her. Both Natori and Antoth breathed a sigh of relief.
“Admiral, while my mate is out of line she is…correct. Your question? If a male of this village were to proposition a mated female and then harm her…the kindest I could do for him would be flogging him within an inch of his life with a barbed flail. Most would demand exile or execution. Both are death sentences, one just takes longer than the other,” Antoth explained in a deep, regretful voice.
“Antoth, really it’s just a couple feathers,” Veera spoke up with fear in her voice.
“No Veera, it is not just a couple feathers,” Antoth corrected her kindly but sternly. “In that, Ratha is also correct. You are one of us, you are of breeding age, and you have suffered harm.”
“By God,” Alice could be heard whispering.
“Antoth, I take responsibility for my soldier’s actions and beg your forgiveness. This is my mistake,” Natori stated immediately, watching as Lipper finally stirred to life. Natalya moved to his side, forcing him to remain still and to not speak or move his head.
‘The medical teams are already on their way,’ Io assured Kaczynski as Rex finally pulled himself into a seated position. She knew that grace in victory was her prize to claim, and that human literature almost universally rewarded those who accepted triumph with humility. Kaczynski continued to entreat the Cauthan for his soldier’s life.
“Thank you. Antoth, I will be honest with you. Out of respect for your people and way of life I have kept all details of your village and culture hidden from all but a handful of my crew. These soldiers were not among that number and did not know of your customs. I had hoped that this could have been done slowly, easing our two peoples together with minimal disruption. I was wrong. Io appears to have compiled a compendium of knowledge on your way of life for all of my crew and insists I send it out immediately to prevent any further misunderstandings, especially of this nature. On behalf of my people, and given that your own came out very much the victor here, I implore you to show mercy,” Natori pleaded. “And don’t you move a muscle, Sergeant. We will speak when this is all over.”
Antoth’s low, rumbling laugh soon could be heard coming from Natori’s device. “Admiral, you lost the possibility for minimal disruption the moment you sent Alice Winters to us. Half of my farmers decided to leave their fields this morning to examine the trinket she made for Thantis. Many clamor for their own…”
“Antoth, I’ve been trying to explain to them that unless their vision is poor they don’t…yes, I’m sorry, not the time or place!” Alice squeaked, falling silent again as Antoth took her by the shoulder. She walked with him through the temple of Valta until they found Ratha in the midst of gutting a chesko that had been felled that morning.
“What?” She spat.
“The human chieftain pleads for mercy, Ratha,” Antoth spoke firmly. “And in light of the services of both Winters siblings to our people, just this once, we will grant it. Admiral, I need assurance he will be punished according to your own species’ customs.”
“You have my word,” Natori agreed immediately as Io nodded sagely just offscreen. “The disciplinary actions will range anywhere from manual labor, to solitary confinement for a period of time, to a potential loss of his command position depending upon the evaluation of a tribunal. You have my profound thanks, Antoth.”
“When he recovers,” the Cauthan grunted disdainfully as Ratha held her tongue, apparently appeased by Natori’s plea. “Tell him that Alice saved his life.”
“I will do that, Antoth. Unless there is anything else?”
“No, but I will think on this and speak with you another time,” the village head promised. “Alice Winters, my gratitude for your haste in bringing this to our attention. You appear pale.”
With an unadulterated sigh of relief, Alice killed the connection and left the rest of them alone in the corridors just outside the armory. The Admiral looked between Mendes and Winters. “Both of you have latrine duty for a week. Lieutenant, do the Cauthan have an equivalent?”
“Outhouses, sir.”
“Then you may serve your sentence on Mara if you choose. Private?”
“Sir,” Mendes replied, making no protest. He was the only combatant left standing from Beta and knew the punishment was token. Whatever else needed to be said between the two men was conveyed silently, evinced only by a curt nod from Natori.
“And since you’re both awake now,” Kacznski said with acid on his tongue, looking between Rex and Lipper. “If your own broken bodies and egos are not punishment enough…I will see to it that justice is served in this matter. I wonder, Sergeant Lipper, if you ever imagined being saved by a civilian when you joined the Jumper corps.” The Admiral’s pointed musings were cut off as a medical team arrived with two stretchers. He issued orders at once, describing the injuries reported. With that information in hand, the medics loaded Lipper and Rex onto the beds and carted them away, one of them shining a pen light into the Sergeant’s eyes to check for concussive damage. “Mendes, Winters, I assume the two of you can make it to the infirmary on your own power?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Get checked out and then report to me in my quarters, Lieutenant. Private, consider yourself dismissed once the medical team clears you. Private Orlova, your team will remain aboard until further notice. I would get comfortable.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Now everyone who is a human, get out of my sight,” Natori gave his final order, watching as Winters, Mendes, and Orlova saluted and departed. “I am very sorry, Veera. Do you require medical attention for your feathers?”
“Ah no, it’s fine. A simple knife will suffice. What’s going to happen to Russell? He didn’t start it! I-”
“Io no doubt has the entire altercation recorded and at the ready. Oh, and you can send that message, Io,” Natori approved, sighing as every crew member aboard the Event Horizon was given mandatory reading. “Would you care to join me in my cabin? I would like to speak with you, if I might?”
“And to think I started today learning about flowers,” Veera lamented, though her statement caught Natori’s attention as Io and he shared a look. With a nod they bade one another farewell. He figured she might be checking on her body’s progress.
“Perhaps we could continue with that instead?” He suggested. “If you wouldn’t mind a further tour of my ship?”
“Ah…no, I suppose not?”
“It will just be while we are waiting for your husband, I assure you,” Natori said, reading the look on Veera’s face easily enough. He wondered if the shaking feathers meant fear or something different. “Io, when the Lieutenant is cleared please send him to hydroponics bay number seven. Thank you.”
‘Of course, Admiral. I look forward to devising a redoubled training schedule for your…I guess we can still call them Jumpers. Perhaps the rookie guard force would be more appropriate sparring partners?’
And so Io left Veera and Natori in silence, having made it quite clear that just because she helped run his ship and let him in on her secret cyborg project, she was in no way, shape, or form on ‘his side’ when it came to the inevitable frictions between Omega and Beta.
-----
“Oh dear, I think I know that look. Sentaura, I apologize but I’m gonna have to step away for a tick,” Lachlan informed his Cauthan host, peering over almost harvest-ready crops to see a rather distraught looking human looking right back at him. She was wearing a pair of durable pants and a white tank top. Sentaura walked to his side carefully, avoiding both her plants and the occasional fungus that shared the soil.
“Is there something wrong?” She demanded.
“If it’s somethin’ that would be affectin’ you or your boy you’ll be the first ta know,” he promised.
“Then go to her. I managed well enough before you came,” Sentaura insisted. Lachlan wondered if her tone and choice of words were a subtle compliment or a trick of the translation program. Permission ‘granted’, the Marine dusted his hands off and moved swiftly to Alice’s side where she promptly hugged him for dear life.
“Rusty got in a fight. A bad fight!” She sniffed. “Veera was there too!”
“Woah woah, hold yer horses there pretty lass. Why don’t we start from the beginnin’?” Lachlan insisted, placing an arm around her shoulders and leading her away from the well populated fields. In addition to not wanting to cause a scene, Lachlan figured the shade of the trees would be preferable. Not to mention it was where he had stashed his canteen for the day. He offered it to her and she accepted readily.
“Already picking up on some local tricks?” She teased softly, tilting her head back and allowing some of the water to trickle onto her tongue. “Hey, there’s…oh what the heck is it called…”
“Sentaura called it niacta root,” Lachlan supplied as Alice snapped her fingers.
“That’s the one! Xan totally got in trouble with Thantis for mixing too much of it into a draught for the guardsmen. Apparently if you go overboard it’ll numb your lips and throat for a while, at least if you’re a Cauthan. Super refreshing though, right? Lachlan, Rusty beat the shit out of Lipper and the others!”
Lachlan felt as though someone had smashed him upside the head with a mallet, and he was sure it showed on his face. He ran his fingers along the trail of his moustache and sizable beard before seeking clarity. “What do ya mean he beat the shit outta four Jumpers?”
“Look, all I know is that I got a call from Io desperately telling me to get Antoth. She said she couldn’t reach you!”
“Oh shite…that musta been when the tyke ran off with my helmet!” Lachlan groaned. “Do ye have any idea how fast those little legs can run when they don’ wanna be caught?!”
“I forgive you because you’re the best human dad on Mara,” Alice managed to smile before returning to her dour disposition, running a finger along the side of his canteen. “By the time I found Antoth and Ratha it was over. Lipper was on the ground, out cold. Rex looked like he could barely breathe. Veera and Natalya were watching as my brother and Mendes were wrapped up in some stupid MMA style crap. That was when Natori finally broke it up and things went bad.”
“Lassie, what do ya mean Lipp and Rex getting destroyed wasn’t the bad bit?” The Marine demanded in a quiet tone.
“The moment Antoth and Ratha found out that Lipper had touched Veera…taunted her and my brother, apparently bent a couple of her feathers. That Huntress started screeching like a banshee that Lipper had to die. I thought she was just being hormonal and pregnant until Antoth agreed.”
“By me grandmum and all else that’s holy, what do ye mean he has ta die?!” Lachlan yelped. Alice shook her head sadly.
“Remember when we first came down here and Veera warned you about touching her?”
“How could I forget?”
“Well apparently, Lipper committed one of the worst possible crimes as far as this village goes. He propositioned a married woman, even if it was surely just a crass joke. He touched her, and she sustained injury.”
“So what did the head fuzzball have ta say about all this?” MacGregor wondered. Alice snorted at the idea of anyone calling Antoth a fuzzball other than perhaps Io herself.
“He said that if Lipper were a Cauthan the best he could hope for is being flogged within an inch of his life with a barbed flail. His words, not mine,” Alice gasped. “But more likely the sentence would be exile or execution. Natori basically had to get on hands and knees, metaphorically speaking of course, to save him. It wasn’t enough.”
“What the bloody hell! Yer tellin’ me they…” MacGregor tempered his anger as Alice hugged herself and began crying, tearfully searching for the record of the conversation. She finally found the segment she’d been looking for.
‘Tell him that Alice saved his life.’
“What did he mean by that?” Mac wondered quietly.
“Be careful, please!” Alice implored, compelling the Marine to pick himself up and sit down at her side, giving her a shoulder to lean on. She indulged immediately. “I know how kind and thoughtful you are, just please be careful. Lipper was just picking another stupid fight and it almost got him killed. If you believe Antoth, the only reason he’s being shown mercy is because I got some glasses for Thantis! I didn’t want this, any of this!”
“But aren’t ye happy we’re here instead o’ somewhere else?”
“I know Mac, it’s just…saving people is what my brother is supposed to do. I just wanted to study them and be a part of this for a while! They all seemed so cute up until now.”
“Are ye havin’ second thoughts?”
“No…nothing like that. I just suddenly feel as though there’s a weight on our shoulders we didn’t ask for.”
“That’s just a part of bein’ a soldier, lass. So don’t ye worry about me one bit. And I’ll be here farmin’ these weird mushrooms an’ cucumbers if ya need anything.”
“What is...what is wrong with you?” Alice demanded as she devolved into a giggling fit.
“Do ye have any idea what it’s like fer a country boy ta deal with HEL food fer so long? She’s a bloody good cook, Alice.”
“Oh no…not you too!” The woman tragically moaned. “Just like my brother. I’m sure Veera lured him in with her cooking and then sunk her talons in deep!”
“Now yer just havin’ a go at my expense,” Lachlan pointed out happily, resting a tentative arm over her shoulders. She didn’t seem to take issue.
“Thanks Mac, you’re the best. So, have you decided to pay Cromwell a visit yet?”
Lachlan, who had just taken a sip of water himself, promptly sprayed the contents of his mouth all over the forest floor before coughing and spluttering. “I thought we were here ta talk about yer problems!”
“And what better way to take my mind off the fact that I apparently saved a Jumper from barbaric execution than by gossiping about the pilot who clearly wants to jump your bones?” Alice questioned devilishly. Mac leaned his head back against the tree they were seated against in defeat.
“Alice, I barely know her. I ain’t gonna sleep with her.”
“Oooh, you know me! Are you going to sleep with me?” She pressed. The silent, horrified look he sent her way was enough to have her clutching her side in stitches. “Ok, I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
“Yer not sorry one bit!” He insisted. “But yer a damn good friend, Alice. And I’ve been around the block once or twice. I know that even best friends can…have things come between em once sex gets involved.”
“Wait, are you saying you’ve…you know, thought about me…like that?” Alice squeaked, suddenly feeling shy and quite aware of the fact that Lachlan was holding her.
“Is it that strange? It’s not like yer an unappealin’ lass,” Lachlan replied seriously. “But like I said, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing ta do. If ya feel the need we can talk about it another time, Alice. I don’t think now’s best.”
“Yeah, yeah you’re right I just didn’t know you…I’m making it weird, aren’t I?”
“You could always say ye find me horribly unattractive and that would be that!” The Marine suggested. Alice looked up at him.
“Except then I’d be lying. But you’re right, Mac. Now is definitely not the time and…yeah, I would hate it if something wrecked whatever it is we have right now. Just…thank you so much.”
“Aww, it’s nothin’! I’m just glad Lipp gets to keep his head. Damn hot head it is too, always bound ta get him in trouble one day. Yer brother didn’t go easy on him I bet.”
“How did you know my brother won just fine?” Alice questioned.
“Other than you tellin’ me? Are ye kiddin’ lass? Lipper and his squad are well trained, but yer brother’s killed. If ye believe the stories he’s done a fair bit o’ killin’. My money’s on him, always. But let’s not dwell on this any longer. Ye said in that letter yesterday you fixed up the ol’ death priest with transition lenses? Why don’t ya go say hi and show him how they work? Perfect day for it.”
“And I’ll let you get back to farming,” Alice chuckled, standing and brushing herself off as Lachlan followed.
“I gotta earn my keep!” Lachlan agreed heartily, waving to Sentaura as they returned from the forest. The Cauthan had been watching them closely. She hummed to herself, pleased that he seemed to have found himself a mate. He was nice enough for an alien.
“Mmm, so that’s how it is. How curious!”
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Does anyone remember a TV channel called 'Beneath The Static?' (Part 3)

We're getting closer to the day of separation. I'm not sure i'm ready to tell it.
It took some time to put my thoughts down for you all, I’ve been having nightmares the past few days that have stopped me composing my thoughts. But I made a vow to someone I’d tell this in its entirety and I aim to keep it.
Some of you have talked about how you remember the channel name and JJ Watson back in 09, most of you didn’t click it and I’m so grateful for that. A few of you even privately contacted me to inform me you’d seen the channel appear, asking what you should do.
The response remains the same for every single one of you;
Don’t click it. no matter how tempting it may seem or how familiar it FEELS in that moment, it's a ruse.
If you recall seeing the channel “Beneath The Static” between 2008 and 2010, please contact me or leave your experiences below.
I know we can get to the bottom of this together.
Part 1
Part 2
If I told you it was more difficult to get everyone together as the weeks droned on, I’d be lying. We began to feel a sense of unity over the struggles that, to date, Preston & Mathias had experienced. We knew all of us had darkness, to an extent, but not the full story for any in particular until it came out on the TV. We grew to accept each of us would eventually have our secrets laid bare and I think collectively, we just dealt with it in our own way.
But this meeting exposed our vulnerabilities in a way that regressed us to scared children, not teenagers on the cusp of adulthood.
We were sitting in my room again, this time Fay chose and the musical stylings of Parkway Drive filled our room to the deafening chug of guitars and guttural vocals. She said it helped her “get in the headspace” and after her last drawing in the midst of Forbidden Acquisition, I shudder to think what she’ll do now.
The drawing before was a grotesque version of Mitsy, the now deceased contestant with a penchant for baby-eating, jaw opened wide and devouring a screaming baby whole as Callista rushed forward, hands bloodied and filled with fury. In the background, JJ Watson stared at them and held a sign with a shit-eating grin plastered over his face: “All you can eat buffet”.
“That one was… a little dark, Fay.” I remarked, getting ready and not daring to interrupt her current drawing flow, but prompted by the same look of concentration and pain riddled across her face as her deft hands moved across the paper.
“I didn’t say they’d be pretty. I just… I draw what I see and feel in the moment. Whatever happens, happens. It’s… it’s uhh…” Her voice faded and her head lowered as she kept on drawing furiously, the sound of the pencil scratching against the paper like nails dragging on the floorboards.
“Fay… buddy? You good?” I called out, finding my favourite flannel and some product to boost my hair. When I turned around, she hadn’t replied. I walked up and saw her sketch pad, her hands never ceasing in their incessant scribbling.
It was JJ. His frame contorted, bent over backwards with his hands wrapped around his knees and bone sticking through the pants. His head jutting through his legs and hollow eyes wide with malice as the smile began and ended at each of his temples. Teeth on the verge of being pulled out, some roots showing as blood trickled down. His speech bubble simply read “YOUR TURN.” Over and over.
“What the fuck… Fay? FAY?” I shook her until she fell out of her trance, mouth agape and eyes deadened. She snapped back immediately and looked at me quizzically. “Hm? What?” She blinked, confused.
“Is it your turn?”
I took a step back and shook my head. She was obviously stressed, and it wasn’t worth pushing the issue right now. We were running behind and I knew everyone was turning up soon.
Looking back, I have the utmost regret that I didn’t ask her more.
It might have saved us from the day of separation.
The tone was becoming more muted as time went on, Preston was still shaken and far removed from his usually jovial self, but he was clearly trying to make a concerted effort to get back there. Mathias, though disturbed from what had gone on, felt determined to push on since at this point in time, nothing of consequence had hit the family save for Callista’s on-screen curse.
In his own words, he said, “If I don’t try to find out how they know, I’ll never fucking forgive myself.”
But when I pressed him in the hallway to tell me how he found the show, that it’s not something he could just hide from everyone, his eyes darted around and he said in hushed tones “not now, but soon, I promise. It’s not the right time.”
Millie arrived with the two, a little bit dazed and seemingly trying to prepare herself for another encounter with JJ. Something about the way he looked set her on edge and I’d been meaning to ask her what, but finding the right time amidst everyone else’s personal concerns was proving difficult. I’d hoped to ask her as I greeted her, but an exhausted looking Warren barrelled his way in, not even bothering to high-five me or quip a remark before going straight to the basement.
He looked like he’d barely slept.
“You think he’s actually going to make it through this?” I asked, looking at the space he’d left in the basement doorway.
“Do you think WE will? Tristan, I don’t know how long I can do this. It’s going to get to me eventually and…” Millie trailed off, her index fingers scratching at her thumbs as she welled up. “I’m not ready for what may come out when it’s my turn.”
I froze. I’d never been good with anyone getting emotional save for Fay and I just instinctively wrapped my arms around her. In that moment, nothing else mattered. Our collective fears and concerns ebbed away as I felt her warmth against me, the ground beneath me slipping away and a multitude of emotions coalescing into one overwhelming sensation of comfort.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, Millie. But no matter what happens, our truths can’t break us.” I said softly, letting the moment linger before she looked up at me, those eyes filled with terror, anxiety and something I hadn’t expected to see; shame.
“Can you guarantee that when MY truth is up there? When Fays is? Or even your own? There are so many things we don’t talk about as a group, so many half truths, rumours sprouted from vile moments. Hell, we don’t even talk about the live-wire kid anymore!” She pushed away slightly, red in the face and wiping tears from her eyes before breathing in. “Let’s just get this over with for fuck’s sake.” she briskly walked away, my own hands shaking, unsure what to say or even think. But one thing she said was categorically true;
We don’t talk about the live-wire kid anymore, but we never forgot about him.
With everyone seated and less fanfare than usual, we fired up the TV and were once again greeted by that familiar logo. I don’t even think we waited until the late hours now, we just assumed it would be on when we gathered. Can’t quite explain why, but our hunch paid off nevertheless.
“Welcome back to Beneath The Static! Up next: Madame Elvira Bidell - The Psychic Of The Century!”
0:00m - The screen cuts to black as several small blue flames light from torches positioned adjacent to one another, the small archway becoming clearer as the torches progressively come to life. An enormous marble table filled with trinkets, oddities and a crystal ball is positioned in the centre of a small stage, a thick purple cloth draped over it, obscuring the legs of a dishevelled woman sat facing the camera. Her head bowed and her hands are moving over a crystal ball, coming into focus of the camera as the ambient music swells and a small, crude logo forms in the crystal ball: Madame Elvira Bidell - The Psychic Of The Century!
Preston: Didn’t they used to have stuff like this on cable TV? I swear my nana was a huge fan of this.
Tristan: Yeah, I remember one’s like John something or other. The guy would use cold reading to guess facts and info about the audiences. Swear those people were actors.
Fay: That’s the biggest douche in the universe one right? The one that South Park did.
Tristan: Right! Yeah! Man, that guy was ass. But I’ve seen low-budget folks like this before, usually they take calls.
Millie: I wonder if she can guess who in the audiences are serial killers, does it make her complacent to not tell anyone? Preston: Huh…never thought about that.
Mathias: Psychic TV shows are pretty common, even now. They’re under the same umbrella as super christian TV or live pastoral services.
Fay: Distasteful?
Warren: Bullshit.
Warren sagged in his seat. He looked even thinner than usual and his mohawk was barely spiked. Dude looked a mess, but we didn’t want to bring too much attention as per his request. So, we exchanged a nervous glance and pressed on, thankful he was trying to add some commentary for the blog.
00:01 - Madame Bidell raises her head, milky blind eyes greet us as a chapped lips clad in overbearing purple lipstick parts to reveal far too bright teeth.
“I am the great Madame Bidell! I see all and hear all, thanks to my connection to the spiritual plane of what is, what is not, what should be and what must NEVER be…Tonight, I will offer the believers at home a chance to have their predictions read live on air. Please keep your phones handy, you may receive a call from the beyond!”
She waves her hands again as the camera stays on her upper body and the ball, some thick black smoke forming within as the sound of a dial tone and a call being made are piped in through the speakers, the soft ambience never ceasing.
Tristan: Did… did she say “live”?
Mathias: That’s not… that’s not possible. Every single one of these broadcasts so far has been taped or pre-recorded, right?
Tristan: Well that’s what I thought, yeah. How is this happening?
Fay: Are we just gonna ignore the JJ Watson breaking the fourth wall bullshit? He LITERALLY spoke to us. TWICE.
Mathias: I still don’t understand how that all happens, but I don’t see JJ here, do you? This just seems to be an elderly woman thinking she’s a psychic.
Warren: She looks like a fucking wax woman, her skin is so goddamn leathery that I could put it on a car seat and NOBODY would notice. Shits creepy.
00:03 - The phone answers and someone picks up, a young woman with the sounds of children playing in the background. She sounds agitated, like she’d just been caught in the midst of a busy routine.
“Hello, my dear, this is Madame Bidell. I’m calling you to offer you a prediction!”
“What? Madame who? I haven’t got time for this right now, I’m not interested in what you’re selling.”
The crystal ball started to form an overview of a suburban park, a slender woman in her 30’s on the phone as several children played some 15 feet away, the parking lot relatively close by.
“Oh, I think you will be, when little Catherine’s life is at stake.” Madame Bidell’s eyes grew wide as she peered into the ball, the woman on the other end of the line staying silent. “Yes… yes, I see. You’re at the park right now…West 5th street, yes? You’re stressed because your husband has been on yet another business trip to the technology expo with his whore of a secretary and you’re ever so worried. Not because he’s cheating, mind you. But because you’re worried he’ll find out about your affair. Yours is legitimate, his is just suspected. You really should have done your due diligence.” Madame Bidell tuts and shakes her head.
The image took focus and honed in on the woman, her features becoming more distinguished and the rage on her face palpable.
“Who the fuck are you? Are… are you fucking stalking me?! I will call the cops!” The woman on the other end growing more distressed and calling her daughter in the distance to get in the car.
“Well now, I’m afraid that’s strike two for you, Lauren. If you do not show me respect and heed my words, the third strike will ring out and your childs fate will be sealed.” Her pleasant voice dropped into one of great seriousness as she uttered “You have been warned, choose your words wisely.”
The crystal ball changed once more, this time showing an expensive car pulling up and a well dressed man in his 30’s escorting a little girl from the playground into his arms as she yells “Daddy!” and hugs him.
“Oh, I’ll choose my words wisely, you creepy fuck, I don’t know who you are or what your game is. But my husband runs one of the biggest technology companies in the world and he WILL find you. YOU HEAR ME?! CATHERINE? WHERE ARE YOU?” She screamed, the panic and rage intermixing.
“I hear you, Lauren J. Grossman of South Philadelphia. I also know that your daughter is not responding to your cries because your husband has just taken her for a murder-suicide pact. See, when I announced your details on the air, certain parties got to work informing your husband and, since he was nearby, he decided to take her and ensure you’ll never use her as a bartering chip in a divorce.”
The crystal ball goes black. Lauren’s screaming is muffled with the phone as an altercation breaks out, her cries and begs to get her baby back are met by the sounds of screeching tires and guttural wails of pain. Madame Bidell simply shakes her head and sighs.
“Strike three, Lauren. I am never wrong in my predictions.”
A gong sounds out and Madame Bidell’s entire being drops as the lights dim, like she’d ran out of batteries. Lauren’s screaming left to fill the silence, empty threats of a mother experiencing abject loss.
After a minute, it cut to a commercial break.
Fay: Did she actually KNOW that shit? Or was this some kind of dramatisation?Tristan: I mean, everything so far could be either elaborate acting intermixed with actual truths or…
Millie: Or all of it is real and we’re privy to something we shouldn’t be. Guys, I don’t want to do this anymore.
Preston: We don’t have to, but I think we should.
Warren: Bull. Shit. we DO have to. I have not lost sleep every night for 2 FUCKING weeks to puss out now. And yes, I AM using that term. We are staying here until we know what the fuck this is all about. Got it?
Warren was stood up, fists balled and in spite of his small frame, dominating the room. An uncomfortable silence fell as Millie simply looked away, Preston and Fay squirming in their seats. It was Mathias who broke the silence.
Mathias: This guy is real.
Tristan: What? And the info on him?
Mathias: Yeah, that’s all real too. But nothing about the murder-suicide yet, but his wife, job, daughter…all checks out from what I can find.
Warren: Fuck… FUCK!
Preston: Look, let’s just watch the rest and see where it goes. We don’t know who it’ll be focused on yet and it’ll be easier for us to support them when it happens, right?
Tristan: Right, I’m with you, man. Let’s just try and calm down.
Warren: No need, it’ll be me.
The group looked at Warren, his face sullen and his voice hoarse.
Warren: I’ve been having… nightmares. Real bad ones, at that. They’ve been getting more real as we approached today. JJ was in my head, mocking me and screaming over and over.
Fay: Your turn. Warren: How the fuck did you…
Fay: Same thing I’ve been dreaming for a while. Same thing I bet the rest of us have, too.
Warren slumped back, mouth open and staring at the TV as Fay cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. This was having an effect on us all and it wouldn’t be long before the cracks became bigger.
00:14 - The show returns and we’re given the same setup as before, Madame Bidell coming to life with a wheeze, as if gulping the first air into her lungs after spending a lifetime underwater. Hands gripped the cloth tight and for a moment, she froze. If I hadn’t known any better, I’d have said the broadcast had issues. But she quickly began bobbing and weaving her hands once more.
“I welcome you back, my faithful viewers of the veil. We had to take an extended break and speak to a caller off air, which I apologise for, but it was foretold and so proper preparations were made. I will now move to our next guest, one that I hope will be more… receptive to my readings.” She flashes those far too perfect teeth and the dial tone rings out once more.
Warren’s phone begins to ring.
We stare, incredulously, for what was only a few seconds but felt like far longer. Warren answered and I have never seen him so terrified in my life.
Warren: Hello?
“Ah, yes… Warren Joseph Fereday… I have some uncomfortable truths and predictions I must share with you. Are you quite ready?” Her eyes were shimmering, her mouth open in between sentences. It was unnerving. Warren swallowed.
Warren: Yeah… yeah, I’m ready, Madame Bidell. Let’s just do this.
“Well, I wasn’t expecting such good manners from the loudmouth of the Fereday family and, by extension, the social group you’re in. I expected you to berate me, call me names and make some crass joke, isn’t that more your style?” She paused, frowning and her voice slipping again from sweet to downright insidious as she continued. “What’s wrong, my boy? Not been getting a lot of sleep? Is it the nightmares? Or the guilt?”
Warren began sweating, he tried to answer her, but she cut him off and carried on, the rest of us in absolute silence.
“Oh, that’s right, Warren. I know all about what you did. You see, guilt is much like an evil spirit. It attaches to you and feeds off your soul. Now I may be able to predict your future, and I most certainly will, but your past is equally intriguing, don’t you think?”
Her index finger snaps directly up and her hands freeze, it’s pointing to the ceiling as she brings its mangled form to her lips and shushes with intensity.
“You knew he needed his medication, but you wanted to play some more. Poor little Frankie Fereday, he trusted his big brother to look after him, trusted his big brother to ensure he was safe while mom was away at work. But when he collapsed and started seizing, you shushed him to calm yourself down before calling 911.”
The crystal ball began twisting and showcasing a smashed coffee table, blood still dripping from the corner as a body seized just out of view, feet twitching as another pair darted around frantically.
I knew Warren’s little brother had died when we were in 5th Grade, but I’d never thought to bring it up too much, it’s just the sort of thing you don’t talk much about when you’re 11 and Warren was never the type to share.
Warren: Stop, I’m begging you, please…
“I will not. That poor boy twitched and gurgled and took 5 days to die. My god, what a hanger-on! YOU are to blame for that. You took all that rage and pain and directed it outward, always trying to be smaller, thinner, faster and louder. To make sure you kept a barrier between yourself and everyone else, but ensuring if those who could actually stand your incessant drivel, you’d be expedient enough to save them THIS TIME.”
She leaned forward, taking the still dislocated finger and grinned.
“Do they know about the…well…” before shoving it down her throat and inducing vomiting, leaning over the table for just a moment before laughing, popping up without any signs of distress. “I bet they don’t. You may be loud, Warren, but you’re awfully good at hiding things. Shame it won’t save you in the end, none of you.”
Warrens face was riddled with tears and the rest of us felt a chill go down our spines. Madame Bidell’s arms were moving erratically, the fingers twitching in uncomfortable ways as the smoke grew darker and a very… very different image loomed.
Every single one of us. Dead. Some through morbid torture devices and others through our own hands. Piled up on top of each other with my blank, vacant expression staring back as I lay atop the heap of my dead friends.
Then, the smoke clouded over the image until it showed us all, sat there in terror. Her joints were audibly clicking now, the sounds in her voice growing croaked and wheezy.
“I see SO much guilt between you all, so many shared mistakes with vile truths just beneath the surface. All I need to do is pick the scab to get at that tender wound. I see a group who looked the other way, who didn’t speak up, who couldn’t say NO, who sees too much when they dream, who wasn’t fast enough, who made a deal they can’t annul and someone… someone who misses you very, very much. A betrayal most foul that will one day take more than one life. Because when you look Beneath The Static…it looks beneath you.”
The call ends and the gong once again rings out, this time the show immediately cutting to a commercial.
Mathias: She knows something we don’t.
Fay: Wrong, she knows EVERYTHING we do and then some.
Mathias: I mean about all of us, there’s something one of us is carrying about us that the others don’t know.
Millie: No shit, none of us knew what’s happened today, to you or to Preston. Secrets are what they are.
Tristan: Do you wanna tell us whatever yours is?
Millie: No… I’ll… I’ll wait until it’s on the show. There’s a chance he might… never mind, no. I don’t.
Preston: Ok, but she showed us all DEAD. We gonna talk about that?
Mathias: That’s just… I dunno… special effects? I’ll admit the live-cam effect is creepy, but there’s gotta be something to it.
Warren: No. She’s right. It’s my fault Frankie is dead.
We stopped, the room felt colder, Warren took a deep breath before continuing, his lip quivering.
Warren: I just… I wanted to play out in the snow SO bad, but Frankie had been put on some new meds and he wasn’t acclimating to them properly. Mom said to stay indoors and keep an eye, make sure he didn’t miss any of them. But I was 11 and irresponsible. I remember his body going limp, his skin going cold and the way my mom screamed when she came through to the emergency room. She said she never blamed me, but…
He put his hand over his face and began weeping uncontrollably, his head going into his knees.
Warren: I will carry that for the rest of my miserable fucking life. I deserve this. I deserve whatever is coming for me. We all do.
The room grew silent again, and we opted to give Warren some space, comfort him and make sure we kept an eye on his feeding habits going forward.
Within a few minutes, the final part of the show aired, and we knew there would be more. I held Fays hand and squeezed, knowing she was terrified of her nightmares as much as she was her secrets, our secrets, laid bare.
00:20 - Intro sequence and gong bring us back to the show. The camera pans back and Madame Bidell’s body snaps up, the back arching and the limbs falling listlessly at the sides. Her jaw moves up and down, the words coming out sounding forced and slurred.
“Welcome back to beyond the veil, I hope you enjoyed my magic tricks. But unfortunately, there was never a true purpose. I just wanted to have some fun and reach out to some friends. The more they watch, the stronger the connection gets. Isn’t friendship wonderful? It’s eternal. It’s the drill that will pierce the heavens!” Madame Bidell casts her left arm to the sky, pointing, as a snapping sound cuts the air and the shoulder dislocates, much to our disgust. “Oh, my mistake, I don’t have full control yet. I’m all right now!”
A vile, putrid laugh breaks out through the speakers. It starts off feminine and rapidly grows lower, slower and more familiar. A second crack rings out and the soft moans of Madame Bidell intermixed with high-pitched squeaks of pain permeate the room as she jumps in her seat, the body twitching before a figure begins to rise behind her chair.
JJ Watson. Same suit, same raven black hair, same sickening smile. His full height towering over the seated Madame Bidell, but one arm inexplicably still out of shot.
“Well, it seems my ruse could not be sustained much longer. But no matter, folks. I’M the one you tune in to see each night, right? And I like to think the message of unity has reached everyone, even if it wasn’t me saying it.” He grins and I swear his teeth are moving in his mouth, swaying in the wind like pearly white grass blades, the roots barely hanging onto blackened gums. “But, before we depart and leave you beautiful people for another day. I’d like to kill two birds with one stone! To show a magic trick and to present a very strong set of words for some of our viewers at home!”
There’s no audience, no laughing track, no music. It’s one deranged man standing on a black stage. He still waits for an applause only he can seem to hear as he soaks up the adoration before simmering them down with his hands. The man is a fucking lunatic.
But it’s what he does next that allowed him into my nightmares.
He pushes hard on his unseen hand and the body of Madame Bidell begins to rise out of her seat as he makes mocking “wooo” noises. Her pain is obvious and as her stomach comes into view, JJ’s hand can be seen pushing against the skin, poking the flesh. His child-like giggling and showmanship only adding to the sheer horror before us.
“I want you to know that much like THIS meat puppet, I can make many more out there. This one was already old and useless when I found her, not a very productive member of the audience, I’m afraid! But, there are so many who have life, zest and desires that I can tap into. If you want a behind the scenes look, you WILL have to pay the price, kids. SOMEONE has to be my next meat puppet!” He leans forward and his face takes up almost all of the camera as he lets his bare eye run across the screen, the squeak it makes enough to bring my lunch back up. “If you don’t believe me, well let’s see the durability of my meat puppet and the durability of your desire to learn the truth, shall we?”
00:28 - Lowering his stance, he pulls back on his arm before hurling Madame Bidell into the camera lens; her face smashing with the glass and features getting cut and twisted, JJ unrelenting the entire time, screaming MEAT PUPPET over and over until her face was nothing more than a bloody, pulpy mass. The group is begging him to stop, but none of us turn the show off.
As he comes into view, it’s apparent his bronze skin is cracked and pink flesh is visible underneath. He moves his dishevelled hair back into place with ease and catches his breath, still grinning.
“Well, I’ll be! You really are a bunch of sickos, aren’t ya? So be it, I will lay all your secrets bare before I’ve had my fill. But I suppose it’s not very fair, after all, you’re damned if you do and damned if ya don’t! SOMEONE in your group put you in this mess and if you don’t turn up… well, we don’t wanna get into that, do we folks?” He wipes the blood from his face with his free hand and shakes off the viscera on his suit with an audible wet thud. “But, I’ll make something very clear to you all, just so there’s a little bit more clarity with those of you at home.” He begins tensing his face and veins pop out on his forehead, Madame Bidell’s teeth were chattering and the most godawful moan was coming from her as JJ began shouting. After a couple of moments where Millie, Preston and Mathias all looked away, JJ pushed his hand out of Madame Bidell’s chest cavity with a sickening crunch, bones, blood and organs splattering everywhere.
“I think I just recreated that scene from the Alien, folks!” JJ’s face is smattered with blood, his bright teeth a horrific contrast to the thick red blood running down his face, his tongue catching some and filling his mouth. In his hand was a small item, the chain attached running down his palm and dangling loosely. He pulls his arm free of Madame Bidell, licking the thick gore clean off of his arms and chewing on it, much to our disgust.
But it was nothing compared to the prophetic message he left us with as the show cut out and we were left in more chaos and turmoil than we’d been to that point.
JJ stepped toward the camera, still holding the trinket tight in his palm, spat out the piece of flesh he was chewing on and said, without missing a beat, something that would begin to put all the pieces together;
“I know what happened that summer up at Mantis Reach.”
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