Day Thirty-Eight – Gehenna

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The impact of the plasma round against the retaining wall sent shrapnel through Cool Monkey Dataskunk’s cloak. His stunt flip off the wall had been effective as a dodge, but at the cost of his high dollar accessory. Upon landing, he dropped the canvas bag he was carrying to the ground and angrily ripped the cloak from his shoulders.

“I paid thirty ambasolls for this!” Cool Monkey Dataskunk screamed to the enforcer squad still firing rounds at him. Spotlights converged on his location, throwing shadows across the broken retaining wall that elongated his already gangling silhouette. As the next salvo of plasma rounds screamed through the night, CMD smirked and sidestepped out of their trajectory.

Casually, the master thief snatched up the canvas bag and sprinted away, a series of small explosions following him. The retaining wall curved for about two hundred yards around the reservoir’s northern edge. Even as he continued along the path, he could see enforcer drones kicking up spray as they skimmed over the water’s surface.

“I count five, Lippy,” CMD panted into his headset. He anticipated the strafing that should have sliced him in half, and, throwing himself into a slide, he cleanly avoided the crackling plasma rounds as they passed harmlessly over him. Kicking his heel into the path as he continued to slide, he propelled himself back into his sprint and continued on. Enforcer drones had big guns, but they reacted slowly. Taking a wide strafing arc like that one had would cost it a few seconds in getting back on target, and CMD used that to his advantage.

“More like twenty,” came the response in his ear. “There’s a squad trying to cut you off at the spillway. I’m headed down.”

Angling toward the retaining wall, CMD leaped and scaled it in two upward strides. The dirt slope that the wall was holding was packed tight and only minimally eroded under his heavy footfall. The sharp slope leveled out to a more gradual incline of dirt with sparse grass and shrubbery and formed a fairly large hill that he decided to ascend.

Below him, the spotlights continued on down the path of his anticipated trajectory, and so wavered momentarily before finding his new path.

CMD took an erratic path up the slope to avoid the shots aimed at his back, and soon it was raining dirt all around him. He couldn’t see the summit of his climb, only black sky devoid of stars or moon.

The Eurobeat intensified in his ear as it responded to the increase in pulse and breathing. He cursed the enforcers for ruining his cloak–it would have given a nice theatrical touch to his ascent, billowing out behind him as he scrambled towards escape. The sawing synth assaulted his senses, and he grated his teeth as another wave of adrenaline coursed through his body.

Another sound, overwhelming even the eardrum-shattering Eurobeat rattling his bones, shook the entire slope as he angled sharply, avoiding another strafe of plasma. Above him, a shockwave rippled the air as Lippy’s mech jumped in.

The mech, one hundred feet tall from foot to helmet, was shaped vaguely like a reptilian humanoid. It’s hands and feet sported titanium claws that served no real purpose other than to look imposing. The mech’s real weapons were the dozen or so plasma cannons arrayed around it’s torso, reaching over its shoulders, under its arms. It hovered briefly in mid-air before Lippy shut off the rockets and dropped to the summit directly above CMD.

“Oh shit,” CMD exclaimed.

The summit above him collapsed under the weight of the massive mech and a wave of dirt and rock cascaded down the slope toward his position.

There was nowhere for him to run, up or down, left or right. The slide was going to hit him full force.

“God dammit, Lippy!” he screamed into his headset. “I had this one!”

Lippy did not respond. His cannons were already firing, tearing the enforcer drones to shreds across the reservoir.

As CMD hesitated, the spotlights found him. The plasma rounds ripped through his body and impacted on the slope in front of him. The canvas bag slipped from his fingers and rolled down the slope even as the landslide rolled over him. Its contents, dozens of small blue crystals, poured out of holes the shrapnel had cut.

For Cool Monkey Dataskunk, everything faded to white …

*

… which didn’t exactly make sense. Normally, things faded to black. Gerald Hanes, career criminal and murderer of three, reached for the release switch that would disconnect him from his VR suite, only this time, there was no switch. There was no reality to greet him. It had been a few weeks since he had exited the suite, and disorientation was common, but this was different.

His vision was filled with nothing but white, and he couldn’t blink or shut his eyes to make it go away. It was as if he didn’t have eyes at all.

He couldn’t see his hands, his body. He couldn’t feel himself breathing. He had no sensation of touch, smell, taste. No spatial awareness, just white.

And it stayed white for a very long time before Gerald Hanes, the convict who existed as Cool Monkey Dataskunk in his virtual reality prison, began to panic.

*

When the disorientation did come, it was instantaneous. One second there was nothing but white, and in the next he was sitting in one of the therapy rooms. It had been a while since he had been in one, but he recognized the two-way mirror, the yellow tinted flourescents overhead, the camera in the corner. You could tell it had been an interrogation room in some other life and they hadn’t changed the decor.

Gerald was handcuffed, wrists and ankles, to a metal chair, and across the metal table from him was the warden of his prison.

Gerald probably would have said hello to the man if his brain had not kept screaming at him that the white nothing had lasted for centuries. He couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that, though he was obviously alive and well now, he had existed in that white hell of nothing for eternity.

“Mr. Hanes,” the Warden began. “I have some bad news for you.”

“What happened to me?” Gerald asked. He half expected it to be difficult to talk, as if his extended time outside of reality would have atrophied his vocal cords or facial muscles, but everything felt normal.

“There will be time for questions in a moment,” the Warden assured him. “First I have some formalities to get out of the way.”

There was a piece of paper on the table that the Warden then picked up and turned over.

“As a certified and elected Warden of the Criminal Justice Sector of the Global Federation, North American Division C,” the Warden began to read from the piece of paper, “I must inform you that the Criminal Rehabilitation and Alternative Social Contribution Act that has given you the opportunity to serve your sentence with access to the virtual and therapeutic reality known as the Yard has been repealed.”

The Warden looked up briefly at Gerald who made no indication that he intended to react to anything said so far.

“Effectively immediately, your sentence will be served in an alternate virtual imprisonment without the possibility of parole or termination, until such time as the energy benefit of your human body is no longer viable. Due to the violent nature of the crime you have committed and have been sentenced for, no appeals will be allowed, and you will end your existence within the virtual reality in which your sentence will be served.”

Gerald had listened, but the revelation was still forthcoming.

“Do you have any questions, Mr. Hanes?” the Warden asked politely. He was very business-like, but Gerald could detect something different in him. It was pity, of a sort, perhaps even guilt. He had done this before. He was going to have to do this again.

“So, I have to keep playing my game, basically,” Gerald replied. “And I can’t come out of it anymore?”

“For the most part, the routine stays the same, at least on this side of things,” the Warden explained. “You will be plugged in. Your body will generate energy that will be stored for future use by society. Your body will have its organ systems commandeered as needed to produce enzymes, proteins, antibodies, etc. to be used by medical science to perpetuate the lives of the populace. Your organs will be cloned as needed for transplants. A portion of your brain’s computational and storage capacity will be used to supplement the larger Global Federation Corebase.”

“But I can’t come back?” Gerald surmised. “I’ll be in this other place, forever, until I die.”

“You’ll likely live on past what your lifespan would have been on the outside world, but yes. Your life functions will eventually terminate and you will die in the suite, and you won’t even realize that you’ve died. Things will simply go–”

“White?” Gerald asked. “I felt like I was already dead. What was that?”

The Warden nodded knowingly. “We had to take you offline for a time while the system was switched over. I hope it wasn’t too unsettling.”

“I didn’t feel anything,” Gerald said, taking a deep breath. “Just … just nothing. How long was I like that?”

The Warden, not answering the question, folded up the paper and slipped it into an inside suit jacket pocket. “It won’t be long now. The system is booting up and you’ll be ready to begin the rest of your sentence.” Without further explanation, the Warden stood and pushed his chair back from him.

“Wait!” Gerald demanded. “I have more questions! You said I could ask questions. I should be able to ask questions if I’m going to die in there. I want to know.” He struggled briefly in his seat, but the handcuffs were tight against the chair’s arms and legs.

The Warden looked impatient and sighed before taking a seat again. “It’s your right, yes. But, I should warn you that you’d be better off just beginning your sentence now.”

“How long was I in the white?” Gerald asked immediately.

“Twenty-eight days,” the Warden responded flatly.

Gerald thought that it had been longer. He had spent well more than twenty-eight days in the suite without exiting before. “That’s all?”

“You were placed in a coma for a time,” the Warden explained. “We implanted new therapeutic systems in your body and integrated them with your nervous system. As a result, you’re going to notice the simulation is going feel quite realistic. In fact, you’ll be slightly hyper-sensitive. Consider it an upgrade.”

“Can I communicate with my family while I’m in there?” Gerald asked after a moment.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden explained. “You’ll never directly communicate with another human being again.”

In truth, that was alright with Gerald. He hated his family and society even more. Gerald began to think this wasn’t so bad.

“I won’t feel anything when I die? I’ll just … go?”

“You will simply cease to live.”

Gerald nodded slowly. “That’s not so bad.” The big questions were out of the way, and Gerald started thinking about the little things.

“Do I get to keep Cool Monkey Dataskunk?” he asked, grinning with slight embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” the Warden said, his face crumpling with confusion. “Cool monkey what?”

“My character in the suite,” Gerald explained. “I had chosen an action/adventure simulation. It’s all I ever really did in there. I could never get used to the straight social lobbies, or the sex stuff, you know. I just wanted the thrill. I didn’t mind the therapy sessions though. I had chosen a very foxy therapist, made some good progress with myself, I’d say. I get to keep all that, right?”

The Warden didn’t answer right away. His lips pressed tight slightly, and he looked away before reluctantly answering the question.

“That particular genre of simulation has been eliminated from the system,” the Warden stated flatly. “The mandatory therapy sessions are also no longer a part of your sentencing, so I’m afraid you won’t be returning to anything familiar. Any stored states of the simulation that you may have generated have already been deleted. All future therapy will be directly applied via the implants that have just been installed in you.”

“So…what kind of simulations do I have to choose from?” Gerald asked.

Again, the Warden appeared uncomfortable, guilty, ashamed.

“Mr. Hanes,” he answered with a pained look on his face. “I’ll have to give you a bit of a history lesson, since you’ve not elected to be kept up to date with what has occurred outside your simulations. Here on the outside, the world has changed. Certain sentiments have come back into play that once were almost eradicated centuries ago.”

Gerald’s heart began to beat a little faster.

The Warden continued. “In the last twenty years or so, the catastrophic environmental changes occurring on the planet have turned a large section of the populace back to religion. When science has been unable to undo what greed has wrought, the people looked away from science for answers, and those answers came from the old texts: the Bible, the Quran.”

The Warden paused.

“It’s a different world, Mr. Hanes. A better world for those in it, but it’s a stricter world. Crime must be deterred for order to reign, and the best deterrence, in the opinion of the newly elected leaders of our now increasingly religious society, is the promise of punishment.”

“What’s in there?” Gerald Hanes asked, his knuckles white as his hands uncontrollably clamped down on the arms of his chair.

“They call it Gehenna. I understand it has some connection to the Bible, or some other text, but it’s really just a name,” the Warden explained. Again, the Warden stood and pushed his chair back.

“What is it?” Gerald asked desperately.

“Whatever real Hell there might be out there in the afterlife, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden explained, “the people can’t be sure of what they can’t see. They’ve created a Hell for criminals that they know is worthy punishment, and a powerful deterrent. While our number of intakes has dropped dramatically, the Global Federation, after unanimous consent by the populace, has decreed that all criminal detainees in the system prior to the creation of Gehenna will now serve out their sentences there.”

“Wait! No!” Gerald yelled. He pulled desperately at his binding, jerking  with his whole body to try and free himself. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden said. “You’re already here.”

With that, the simulation of the Warden and the interrogation room ended.

Gerald Hanes was no longer seated handcuffed to a chair. He was standing in a wasteland of black rock and lakes of fire. The heat pressed on him from all angles, and as the Warden promised, he was hyper-sensitive to his surroundings.

It felt real as the burning air was pulled into his lungs. He felt the sharp rock knife into his flesh as he collapsed to his knees.

In the distance, a creature standing over three hundred feet tall began to stride over the black hills and lakes of fire toward him.

Gerald Hanes screamed in primal terror and pain as the simulated demon reached down to claim his soul.

Day Twenty-Nine – Papercut Moseby’s Left Withered

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There is darkness and sound–a repetitive thud and scraping of metal. I feel heat radiating around me, and I feel trapped and claustrophobic.

I cannot move my body more than a few inches in any direction. There are walls surrounding me, lined with soft silk. I feel myself pressed against a cushion to my back–laying down perhaps?

I have two hands; this I can sense. Nails have grown to claws, curling a bit, but not quite brittle. I scratch nervously against my thighs. Two legs are there as well, and I can feel that same nail growth cramping what can only be shoes covering my feet.

I manage to slide a hand up to my chest and notice a dress tie, and–

Gold lapel pin, in the shape of a hypercube.

Green and gold silk tie.

Charcoal suit, wide in the shoulders, a bit long, buttoned midriff, shadowy pinstripe.

Crisp shirt over clean undershirt.

Boxers.

–in a ridiculous gesture, I adjust it nervously.

I get the overwhelming feeling that I am headed to an important meeting, and the heat raging in this box only becomes more unbearable.

I find it difficult to breathe.

There is more noise, and vibrations rattle my heart within my ribcage. I imagine light leaking in from somewhere, but then I realize that the bottom of the box I am trapped inside of has begun to glow.

From outside the box, a roar grows in intensity. I conjure up thoughts of monstrous denizens of the dark lurking just outside. I struggle to breathe, and struggle to find some meaning in the small box I am contained in. The vibrations are becoming more and more violent.

I gaze nervously around for a kitchen. I have a hankering for–

Roasted flesh, alien.

The energy emitted from dying stars.

Ichor of galaxies.

Starblood.

Universal Afterbirth.

–bacon, and wish there was an oven in this box. But, this oven is the box and in reverse, too.

I long for the doorbell, guests filing in, and bacon on mustard yellow ceramic.

“Chih, chih, you look lovely, and God, and Sundee School pretties, and how’s Bill, and isn’t he just so-and-so’s twin, the doll, and I heard her son’s the one that drinks crystal meth from the gutters, and he has a mistress, but I heard him say that he AGREES with the president, that he AGREES, but it was a nice sermon … did you see that they didn’t fill that pew? I heard their son worships–

Brekyirihunuade.

Spandaramet.

Xiuhtecuhtli.

Resheph.

Taranis.

Q’uq’umatz.

–Miley Cyrus, and he’s gay, but is afraid to come out since his mother was in that cult that rewrote the bible in their own twisted vision of the human condition.”

The box explodes and I am expelled from it into light. I fly through fields of fire and dirt until I crash into rock.

My suit is ruined.

Rage fills me–the suit was my favorite.

And there are hundreds of humans around me, staring in disbelief, in shock, in awe.

I look behind me and see the remains of my vessel, the pod that has delivered the tool of extermination to this tiny planet of self-absorbed apes.

I smile, and swallow the first human whole.

Day Twenty-Seven – We Who Are About to Sigh, Salute You

What follows is a list of things no human knows about me. What follows are instances in the great effluvia of creation in which I have found myself directly in control of God’s hand, like a golf instructor reaches around his student as their hips swing in unison. What you are about to read is a swan dive written in crayon on the bathroom stall of a dilapidated truck stop – the color is cerulean. The next several minutes of your life will be wasted reading this filth as reality squeezes the sphincter of the present and miraculously deposits the glorious future into a room temperature ceramic bowl. These are lies:

When I was three years old, I killed a man with my bare hands. He was a stock broker with a nice flat down on 5th and Turnbull. He had a propensity for bullshit and two kids from a broken marriage. His ex paid me in bottlecaps, and I took the man’s soul in a stripclub while a handful of dazed degenerates looked on in a confusing mix of pants-bulging innocence and abject horror. I was shocked by the size of this man’s Adam’s Apple – thyroid issues? No mistaking him for a Filipino trannie – set aside the pink dayglow tie, the putrid aftershave bought in a store with a broken tile floor and rust stains where the VHS shelves used to be. I enjoyed the kill, the taste of his fear mingled with sweaty, desperate ass and dirty money. The filth, the flaming dime, the fall.

In Reno, must have been a dozen years ago, what century is this? Reno. The virus was in the Fifth Stage and playing cricket in my marrow. Nails turned to claws, more stone than chitin or cartilage or dead cells. I had not intended to use them on this particular murder night, but I find it difficult to let stupidity survive. The victim had her five children with her in a rundown Wal-Mart – the old school Wal-Mart before the Super monstrosities where they sell artificial hearts and spaceships and Gummi Bears the size of Machu Picchu. Three of her kids attacked me while I still had my new claws in her. Without warning, the two-year-old, the one I did not suspect, dropped a thermal detonator and lit the place up. I’ll never forgive that little shit for vaporizing my favorite leisure suit. She killed her own siblings to avenge the mother that had just died in front of her. And I see this shit all the time.

I traveled some. Held a man’s head through a ViroSphinc on Titan, poor bastard just ate the methane rain like some pearled-up harlot was dousing him with bottles of century-old Islay peat-stinking scotch. I will never forget that smile – it said, “Death is just another bad song on the jukebox that somehow keeps getting played by accident”. It brings to mind “It’s Raining Men” or “Birdhouse in Your Soul”.

L-I-T-E

On Thursdays – yes, I think, yes Thursdays, most often – I get wicked flashbacks of my first seven years in the womb. This was back when I had to fight to survive in the dark and the slime. My brother had fleeting control over meson fields, a useless weapon inherited from a father that had no understanding of particle physics. He attempted to kill me everyday, but mesons are over faster than a lobster handjob. I eventually ate him. My sisters, on the other hand, may God devour their souls as I did, managed to burrow into my organs. Holly lived in my liver for a while and I fed her with brandy and methanol. Trixie eventually set up residence in my ear, specifically right on my malleus. She knew before the rest of my siblings that I was destined to be born alone, and so she took revenge by creating phantom sounds. For the past thousand years or so, I thought “Mexican Radio” was the ambient sound of the universe. I picked up a bad ear infection from a sexbot off Pollux Station and Trixie took the worst of it. The bacteria strangled her to death.

I still hear that damn song.

In my teen years, I discovered my reproductive organs and put them to good use. The first two of them I put on a train to Sacramento – hell, I didn’t know hippies were uncouth – and a couple of years later I found out I had kids. I still have my other two sex organs – I keep them in a box with a yo-yo, a 12-sided die, and tuft of fur from a Bernese Mountain Dog. I tell them that in Louisiana you’re considered an adult at 50, so they cannot come out. I planned to send them to one of the colonies – maybe Triton. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sex, it’s just tedious to have to explain that my race is retroconversal biologicially – we destroy you and birth your waste into the past of an undeveloped universe. I might as well ask if they swallow. I’ve had some lovers – the whales and dolphins were the most gentle.

After a long hiatus, I decided to get back into the assassin game. You’re welcome.

There was a period of time that grew a horn just over my left eye. It had a righteous Ugandan accent, barked orders in Portugese, and seeped bile like an American planet-hopper leaks quicksilver. We used to spend time together down at Point Lobos, watching the whales trundle by, while he sang David Bowie songs in binary. I miss the bastard. When he fell off, I was in the Hundred Years War healing up from a bad sword gash in the ribs. I suppose I was too distracted by the state of Holly, who had been cleaved in half, along with my liver. I saw him lying in bloody mud as the healers moved me out of the ritual tent on the fly. I roared for them to stop, so I could gather him up in my arms and say goodbye, but the war was ending and tea had been invented. We had no time.

And now, as you read this, I tell you honestly that I am in your mind. You will die by my hand, and the world will be lesser for it. Weep not, fear not – look not to the mirror or the lake for your savior, for I am one and all, singular and the same, death. I am yours.

Day Twenty-Two – All Aboard for Stenotrophomonas maltophilia and Pancakes

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“Yes, Chef,” Remi Grismain barks. Chef Garret departs the kitchen to attend to something in the dining room. Remi watches him go, then sighs.

With the last of the tomatoes cored and skinned, the apprentice dumps them unceremoniously into a blender and sets it for purée. He takes a moment, as the tomatoes turn to mush, to look around the kitchen. It is his fifth month in this position, and this particular day marks the culmination of seven years of work.

Unlike Remi, who is not allowed to prepare anything where delicacy and ingenuity are culinary requirements, the rest of Chef Garret’s crew are in deep levels of concentration working in tandem to perfect Garret’s menu for the evening. Remi has been given the inglorious task of making salmorejo.

Absently, he adds two handfuls of garlic into the blender.

What Remi Grismain knows, and what the rest of the planet is completely unaware of, is that this particular day will set into motion events that will change the future of the solar system forever. Remi is but an ant in the works this day. He has a simple task to perform, but the execution of said task, should it not go as planned, could have unpleasant consequences. In Remi’s mind, he can only concentrate on the one or two seconds it will take to achieve success.

Everything must be perfect though. Remi must be in control of the situation. He must be ultimately aware of everything occurring around him at that final millisecond before the event.

Remi slows the speed of the blender and adds vinegar and a handful of seasonings Chef Garret has prepared for him ahead of time. As he reaches for the bread that has been soaking in a bowl, he notices his hand trembling. Quickly, darting his eyes to see if anyone else has noticed, Remi shoves the hand into his pocket. He performs the next few steps of the recipe in this fashion, one-handed.

“Remi!” the bellowing voice of Chef Garret booms over the raucous din of the working kitchen. “Get that hand out of your pocket and immediately sterilize yourself. Use flame if you have to, acid, boiling metal, I don’t care. Do not let me see you contaminating the salmorejo again.”

Chef Garret stands behind Remi as he quickly washes his hands in the basin to the side of the station he’s been assigned to. “Yes, Chef!” Remi barks automatically. He hates Chef Garret more than anyone he has met in the last seven years. Garret’s ridiculously strict standards made it excessively difficult for Remi to even be considered for a position at the flagship restaurant. He had almost been cut several times.

If he had lost this position, it would have been disastrous.

Remi goes back to his work, while Chef Garret watches him for a few moments. Stopping the blender, Remi allows Garret to test the consistency and taste so far.

After sampling a bit of the salmorejo in process, Garret nods his head. “Not half bad. Make sure the final consistency is thick enough to survive a palsied hand holding a plastic spoon.”

“Yes, Chef!”

Garret leaves the kitchen to his crew, and Remi sees that his moment is approaching.

With most of the people in the kitchen focused completely on their individual tasks, Remi has a window in which to perform the most important task of his very brief life on this planet.

Lifting the cover off the blender with slow deliberation, Remi casually bends his head down over its top. He makes as if to sample the mixture, dipping a finger in the soup, and touches it to his tongue. He looks around once more, to ensure no one is watching him.

Remi lets a large globule of saliva drip from his mouth into the blender. The saliva is thick and deep purple with flecks of red that could be blood. The globule hangs there in space for a moment before the liquid tether is broken by gravity. With a plop, the globule falls into the salmorejo.

Smiling slightly, Remi kicks the blender back into purée. The task is done.

Fifteen minutes later, Chef Garret tastes the final product and is impressed. “A simple dish Remi, but easy to fuck up.” He smacks his lips happily, then stops, his brow furrowing.

“Did you add something other than what I instructed?” Chef Garret asks, his stare drilling into his subordinate.

“No, Chef,” Remi lies nervously. He can feel the shaking of his hands increasing. He does not have long left to live – though it has nothing to do with his fear of Chef Garret or what the cantankerous culinary despot might do to him.

“You lie,” Chef Garret accuses. He pauses a moment, letting the silence slap Remi in the face. “Keep it to yourself, Remi. Whatever it is, it really rounds out the flavor. Good job.” With a smirk, Garret departs the kitchen, thinking to himself that he may have just created a worthwhile apprentice after all.

Remi heaves a deep sigh of relief and leaves the kitchen, casting one final glance back at the salmorejo as he goes.

The larvae Remi deposited into the soup should begin multiplying as soon as they hit the stomachs of the humans unlucky enough to eat the salmorejo. They will have it worse than the rest. Those particular humans will be devoured from the inside out.

The rest of humanity will simply die as they inhale the spores released from the second phase of his species life cycle – no pain necessary, just a long, psychedelic daydream followed by the forever nap.

As Remi walks down the alley running behind the trendy restaurant, his left hand falls to the ground, completely decayed.

Remi will sleep the forever nap soon himself.

Reach Five

PREFACE: Reach was one of seven men named as such who existed in seven separate universes as multiversally intertwined souls. It was impossible for them to meet; and though, theoretically, it was possible for Reach to cross over to another universe, the chances of encountering one of the other seven were ridiculously low. This was also complicated by the fact that any one Reach jumping universes was being mirrored by the other Reachs.

The origin of Reach is unknown, because Reach himself has yet to create his origins. Reach exists suddenly, and not due to any epic mingling of chaotic strands of eternity in well-defined intersections of “now”. Reach just was and just is – seven times over. He exists sevenfold in time and space, but lives in a dysphoric misalignment with the rest of the universe each iteration of himself inhabits. Frequently, the outsider’s presumption of Reach’s insanity serves only to further separate the heptaphrenic traveler from the only realities that could actually shed light on the purpose of his multifaceted existence.

To further complicate this already complicated tale, Reach does not know he is connected to seven other beings and that everything he does is either influencing or being influenced by one or more of his other existences.

This is Reach Zero, the beginning you’re allowed to consider as such, but not the one that was.

***

REACH FIVE

As the shield collapses, Reach heaves a breath. The garlic smell permeating his environmental suit bodes as ill for him as the collapsing shield that threatens to vaporize him.

The shield is collapsing in a perfect circle, decreasing in size by the minute. In the last few moments of his life, if Reach lives to see it, the collapsing shield will slowly work its way up his body until it terminates directly on his left pupil.

Reach has planned it this way.

Twenty years earlier, Reach abducted a Guatemalan carpenter and amputated his leg. Hidden within the marrow of the femur was a stasis pod containing coordinates. Reach was at those specific coordinates at the very moment a sheet of paper skipped by in the wind. Reach retrieved the paper and read the words on it. Reach followed the directions on that sheet of paper and jumped from a 23-story building in Tokyo at 4:13 a.m. on April 17th, 1943. Before his imminent collision with the cement, Reach breached an open temporal anomaly and arrived on time for a job interview with Ulysses Interplanetary Logistics. Accepting the first offer, Reach obtained the position he now occupies on the surface of Chediætros VII. His first assignment was to lay down at a specific position in the Chediætrian wastes so that the collapsing environmental shield would pinpoint directly on his eye.

The pain of his feet and hands being vaporized was not as terrible as he had expected. The shield collapsed to its pinpoint directly over Reach’s eye, the last part of his body left.

***

Reach came into existence over a large body of water. The fall broke his body.

Not long after his death, he provided a desperate meal for a starving ocean predator. That predator later attacked a visiting dignitary taking a dip in the shallow waters off Roatan.

The dignitary’s severed leg washed up on a beach in Belize where a wandering drunk discovered a stasis pod in the marrow of the femur. When the drunk opened the stasis pod, a temporal anomaly ripped open his mind and allowed him to conceive of the physical requirements for time travel.

On the following Thursday, the drunk lost his left eye in a bar fight. He had been drinking a Japanese beer forgotten, but retrieved, in the corner of a cooler.

***

Reach spat blood into the ceramic sink provided to him by his captors. He found it difficult to breathe due to the chains wrapped tightly around his chest.

“Have you come to a decision, Mr. Reach?” a balding man in a white suit asks. He pets a small iguana perched on the back of a naked female slave kneeling before him. The iguana’s claws are digging into the woman’s flesh and a black fluid drips from the trauma.

“I have,” Reach says in exasperation. “I need to speak to the iguana.”

Before the assembled guards can stop him, Reach has halved the distance between him and the Guatemalan mobster in the white suit. His guards reach high, expecting Reach to target their master. They find only empty air as Reach dives through the temporal anomaly that has just opened inside the iguana’s eye.

The anomaly closes quickly, just as Reach dives through. It severs his left leg.

***

The woman allowing Reach to make love to her suffers a momentary lapse of judgment and attempts to finger the stasis pod from Reach’s corduroy pants lying next to her on the stained ochre carpet.

Her death is swift, though Reach had hoped her lapse of judgement would have occurred later. He rises naked from her body and takes his pants with him from the floor. Removing a transceiver from the back pocket he says:

“You were fifteen minutes off. She went for it.”

Sorry, Reach, the voice on the other end said. There seems to be some interference in the quantum plotter, maybe if we–

The door bursts open and seventeen starving ocean predators devour Reach, leaving only his left eyeball uneaten. It stares apathetically at his last sexual conquest

***

Reach exits his mother’s vagina at the same moment a temporal anomaly opens between her legs. The attending doctor loses the infant through the paradoxical breach, and gives the patient a confused, stupid look of horror.

Reach lands gently on a leather sofa in the waiting room of Ulysses Underwater Exploration, ruining the furniture as his severed umbilical cord leaks without care.

“Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asks from behind a giant desk, obviously sandblasted out of granite. “We are closed. Receiving hours are yesterday. Won’t you follow me? I’ll show you to your room. The doctor is out. Would you like some coffee? Here are your results.”

Reach’s first words are: “Something spoken in Japanese” spoken in Tagalog.

An aquarium on the left side of the waiting room is filled with ocean predators that have been overfed.

The receptionist offers the infant Reach her breast, and the meal is filling.

***

On the dais, the hundred assembled scientists crowd together for the ridiculously inappropriate photograph. Reach has already uncorked the champagne bottle and is pouring it over his assistant, a female named Judith.

Behind them, set into the wall, is the first stable jumpgate. Above the jumpgate and the scientists, also on the wall, is bronze lettering declaring it the property of Ulysses Temporal Defense.

The scientists laugh at each other, clapping backs that are not theirs. An Egyptian pharaoh struggles to free himself from the invaders from the future. Angrily, he makes a lunge for the champagne.

In the ensuing chaos, Reach’s left leg is broken. The pharaoh, attacked but not subdued by aggressive Ulysses guards, pluck’s Reach’s left eye from its socket. Popping the eye between his fingers, the pharaoh finds the stasis pod hidden therein.

As the temporal anomaly opens  in the middle of the assembled scientists, the pharaoh tosses the stasis pod into its center.

The assembled scientists collectively lunge for the paradoxical devise in slow motion. As it passes through the threshold–

***

Reach heaves a breath. The garlic smell permeating his environmental suit bodes as ill for him as the collapsing shield that threatens to vaporize him.

The shield is collapsing in a perfect circle, decreasing in size by the minute. In the last few moments of his life, if Reach lives to see it, the collapsing shield will slowly work its way up his body until it terminates directly on his left pupil.

Reach has planned it this way.

Twenty years earlier, Reach abducted a Guatemalan carpenter and amputated his leg. Hidden within the marrow of the femur was a stasis pod containing coordinates. Reach was at those specific coordinates at the very moment a sheet of paper skipped by in the wind. Reach retrieved the paper and read the words on it. Reach followed the directions on that sheet of paper and jumped from a 23-story building in Tokyo at 4:13 a.m. on April 17th, 1943. Before his imminent collision with the cement, Reach breached an open temporal anomaly and arrived on time for a job interview with Ulysses Interplanetary Logistics. Accepting the first offer, Reach obtained the position he now occupies on the surface of Chediætros VII. His first assignment was to lay down at a specific position in the Chediætrian wastes so that the collapsing environmental shield would pinpoint directly on his eye.

The pain of his feet and hands being vapo–

“Wait,” Reach screams in the confines of his helmet. “This happened!”

The shield collapses further.

“No! This happened! It’s the same! It’s the same! My God! I’m the seventh! I can’t be the same! Wait!” he screams.

Day Twenty-One – There Will Be Redundancies

troll

Avery Drew is an excellent patient in his waking life. In fact, if the good Dr. Hines were to be of a mind to pick favorites among the subjects in this particular experiment, Avery Drew, aged nine years, would definitely hold the top spot. Hines is cautious about his fraternization with the patient, and for good reason. Dr. Hines realizes that his interference with the subject, on any level, miniscule or major, could very well ruin the experiment.

“And what did you do with the bird, once you caught it?” Dr. Hines prompts his patient.

“I broke it,” Avery says in the sort of innocently frank voice you would expect from him if he were to tell you the sun shines brightly.

“I see,” Dr. Hines replies, scribbling on his clipboard. “Is this the first time you’ve broken a bird, Avery?”

“No, Dr. Hines,” Avery replies with a smile. “I do it all the time.”

Dr. Hines nods his head. “That’s good, Avery. Would you like to play with birds again?”

“Oh, yes, please,” Avery replied. The excitement was plain on his round face. “I would like that ever so much.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Dr. Hines teased with a polite but plastic grin. “And maybe, if you’re a good patient this week, we can let you have a mouse or a squirrel.”

Avery’s eyes went wide, but he very obviously pulled his excitement back in check before saying, shyly, “Can I break the mouse, too, Dr. Hines?”

“Yes, Avery,” Dr. Hines said, rising from his chair. With focused and deliberate movements, he tightened the straps on little Avery’s straight jacket and lifted the boy from the floor into his bed. “Sleep well, now.”

Avery beamed a smile at Dr. Hines as shiny and pure as the plastic padding that lined the walls of the nine year old’s cell.

“Goodnight,” Dr. Hines said, locking the door behind him as he left.

***

“Is it boys or girls this time, Randal?” Dr. Hines asks.

The sweaty hands writhe over themselves in spasms as Randal Quinn spins a lie in his head.

Hines stares unblinking into Randal’s eyes, reading the creation taking place, interpreting every minute movement of Randal’s face and body as the patient desperately attempts to squirm out of the obvious answer.

“Randal,” Dr. Hines prompts.

“B-both,” Randal spits, turning his head away in shame. “It’s b-b-both. I’ve been taking both, doing it with both, both. And,” Randal licks his lips as he digs fingernails into the skin of his hands. “And, I killed a, uh…”

Dr. Hines sets his pen down on the desk for a moment, regarding Randal with something like pity. Randal is different than most of the subjects in this place. The Board would even suggest Randal’s progression puts him too far gone for the experiment to reveal any meaningful data. The truth of Randal’s actions before coming to the research facilities, a feat in itself that defies explanation given the states’ strict regulations on punishment for murderers of Randal’s caliber, has turned the convicted killer into a wreck. Even within the confines of the Alternate Reality Suite he is given free reign in as part of the experiment, Randal is timid and careless. On many occasions, he does not follow through with the scenarios set up for him. He once turned himself into the virtually intelligent security forces within the simulation, explaining to them that he had been having disturbing thoughts about the girl construct that had been engineered specifically for him to abuse.

“Randal,” Dr. Hines says sympathetically. “Don’t you like it here? Is this not what you want? We are giving you the freedom to act on your fantasies without boundary.”

“I do like it,” Randal replies quickly. “I do. I do want it. I do.”

“Is it that the ARS is not realistic enough for you?” Dr. Hines asks him. It is a complaint rarely vocalized to the administrators of the experiment. With the advanced immersion suits and pro-simulation drug cocktails, the virtual world these murderers, serial killers, and rapists live in is indistinguishable from the real world.

“I want to get caught,” Randal says suddenly. “I want to be shamed for it. I want to be punished, and you won’t do it! You don’t even care! I can’t take it!”

Dr. Hines scribbles something on his clipboard. “We’ll see what we can do.”

***

The entity floating in the void is in a constant state of mutation. Dr. Hines can see a multitude of images within the mutations from the obvious phallus to fractal patterns and even the E8 Lie Group. The creature’s head, or at least the portion of the mass containing the most number of eyes is similar in appearance to Ganesha.

It is not a surprise. Somayaji is a devotee of the Hindu faith. The majority of his sessions in the ARS revolve around that particular pantheon of gods, regardless of the objectives Somayaji has been tasked to complete.

“Does it always come to this?” Dr. Sommers says to Dr. Hines. They are both regarding the monitor showing the visual matrix of the ARS as Somayaji perceives it within the simulation. “I mean, how does this have anything to do with interplanetary and colony logistics management?”

“Just wait,” Dr. Hines replies, his smile unhidden and brazen.

A computer monitor to their right shows activity. Massive amounts of data flash by on the screen in seconds, so quickly that neither of the administrators can read a single line or series of numbers.

“What the hell is that?” Sommers asks, puzzled.

“That is the production and logistics plan for the next seventeen years for the Lunar, Martian, and Jovian colonies,” Dr. Hines answers with a satisfied grin. “And I’ll wager it is beyond peak efficiency, something even the quantum computers have had trouble accomplishing lately.”

“He’s autistic,” Sommers replies incredulously. “He can’t even count or speak.”

“Not in our version of reality.” Dr. Hines switches off the monitors, one by one. “It has potential beyond rehabilitation, and I want you to push that to the Board.”

Sommers shook his head and turned to leave. “It’s not the game, Hines.”

Dr. Hines grabs Sommers’ arm and spins him around. “Do you not see what this means? Think of all those people out there that are unable to function because their brain is tuned to a different frequency, this gives them a chance to do something meaningful, to make a difference. It gives their life a purpose, can’t you see that? Can’t any of you see that?”

Sommers jerks his arm away from Hines, glaring at his subordinate. “Get back to the serial killers, Hines, or get off this project.” Slamming the door behind him, Sommers exits the monitoring room.

For several seconds, Dr. Hines does nothing but stare at Somayaji’s brain monitors – the man is alive like he has never been before, using his brain to its fullest potential.

Sommers bursts back into the room. He barks, “Get him out of this facility. And, if I catch you bringing an unauthorized and unscreened subject into this project again, you’ll be imprisoned for security breach and treason.”

When the door slams the second time–

***

—same thing each time,” a voice says somewhere nearby. “He’s the only one like this.”

Another voice echoes from across the room. “How many sessions has he been in?”

“At least a hundred,” the original voice replies.

Hines opens his eyes and is assaulted by bright, painful light. They still have him strapped down. In his mind, he can still hear the echo of Sommers, a figment of his imagination, slamming the door.

“And he’s never even attempted to go after the bait?”

Hines’ vision begins to clear and he can see his therapist, Dr. Holloway fiddling with a monitor on the wall. She has not spoken yet. He recognizes the other two voices – Remington, a technician, and Dr. Lazslo the administrator in charge of the ARS facility.

It is Lazslo who speaks next: “We’ve given him plenty of opportunity. Basically throwing it at him, but he hasn’t touched a single woman. We know his preferences, his obsessions. Nothing works.”

Dr. Holloway speaks up, saying, “Obviously, this is what he wants. We’ve given him a reality that suits his perception of the world. Our reality doesn’t fit it, and the result is that he’s a serial rapist and murderer. This one fits, and he gets to be what he wants.”

Lazslo and Remington both laugh at this. The sound echoes off the walls and pierces Hines’ ears offensively. The real world asserts its abusive position around him. He wants to kill all of them, gruesomely.

But, deep down, where his real voice lives, Hines struggles to scream at them:

“I want to help people.”

Hines, like Somayaji from his sessions, has never spoken in his life.

Day Nineteen – Andrew Lost His Keys While George is Engulfed in Flames

fot

On the third day, the grand and omnipotent entity known as Va’alamyr walked the grounds of his creation. He reveled in the squeakiness of the wet grass beneath his bare feet. He turned his eyes to the blinding sun he had created two days earlier and saw that it was good. The trees were coming along nicely, and, as the god stood there, several woodland creatures of his design scampered up to sniff his robes.

Va’alamyr was pleased with himself, and he spent the good part of that third day just walking the green fields of his ultimate design. The god swam in the waters of the vasts seas he called into being across a good part of the small planet. He marveled at his own ingenuity as he held a shell in his hands. A beaming smile broke his typically somber face as a flock of birds soared over his head.

Everything was in perfect harmony, a perpetuity of order that would go on forever. Va’alamyr sat upon a rock at the pinnacle of a high mountain and surveyed his handiwork. Only the sound and caress of the wind shared the moment with him in that moment.

And so, the voice behind him scared the shit out of the god.

“Oi,” the voice said. “Bit borin’ innit?”

Va’alamyr struggled to prevent himself from sliding down the side of the mountain as he gaped at the entity who had spoken to him.

“Whatcher self there,” the entity said to him, quickly moving to help the startled god. “Nearly took a nasty spill, dincha?”

“What art thou?” Va’alamyr demanded in his most holy booming voice. “How dost thou come to exist in this place without my knowledge?”

The other entity had two arms and two legs, a head full of jet black hair, and a clever mustache. He was very much almost sort of the spitting image of Va’alamyr himself, only Va’alamyr preferred his flowing white beard to match his flowing white robes. This stranger wore a Tubeway Army t-shirt, dirty jeans, and a pair of poorly crafted Skechers (though Va’alamyr did not know what these articles of clothing were called).

“Oh deary me, but you ‘ave got a way with words, eh?” the stranger replied, clucking his tongue. “All ‘igh an’ mighty, I ‘spect. A right bloody proper god ‘n all, eh? Come off it, ’nuff with the pompous words.”

Va’alamyr blinked his eyes in confusion for a moment, before abruptly attempting to make the stranger vanish by his will.

“Nice try, old bean,” the stranger laughed. “Look, I might as well introduce myself. I’m Evil.” The strange man offered his hand for Va’alamyr to shake, but the white bearded god merely looked at the filthy hand in horror.

“I don’t understand,” Va’alamyr stammered. “I thought–”

“You thought you were the only one,” Evil said with a grin. “Infinite universe, and you, all ‘igh and mighty as you were, figgered it’s all just you and yer lonesome to create and pontificate as it pleases you, eh? Bit pretentious that, innit?”

“Whatcha call this we’re sitting on?” Evil asked, patting the rock of the mountain beneath their feet.

“I had not thought of a word for it,” Va’alamyr said, taken off guard. “Why does it need to be called something?”

“Everyfing needs a name,” Evil said. “Let me help. I fink it should called a mountain. Howzat?”

Va’alamyr straightened up and boomed at the stranger, “I demand to know where you came from, and why you are here in my realm!”

“Bloody hell, mate,” Evil said wiggling a finger in his ear. “Pop an eardrum with all that shoutin’. Whatsit matter why I’m here or where I came from? Let’s just say I’m here to help you out. And, boy, let me tell you plain ‘n proper, you need it, mate.”

Va’alamyr was about to protest when it appeared that his curiosity had suddenly taken over him. “What — what do mean, exactly? Is this not … good?”

Evil beamed at him. “Oh, it is. And that’s the problem.” The mustachioed stranger grabbed Va’alamyr by the arm and began dragging him down the mountain. “For starters, it’s always so bleedin’ bright. Watch this.” As they walked, one being led by the other, huge billowing thunderclouds rushed in from the horizons and filled the sky, blocking out the sun.

Va’alamyr grimaced at the invasion and was about to protest when Evil turned around suddenly and asked, “Look, this’ll take forever. Can’t you just zap us down somewhere else?”

Within the blink of an eye, both entities were standing just outside a small copse of trees. At a wave of Va’alamyr’s hand, the clouds dissipated and the sun returned.

Evil frowned at this, but let it go. “Right, well, take a look at these fings,” Evil said, gesturing at one of the cute and cuddly woodland creatures that had come running up to them. “Whatsit do?”

“It lives,” Va’alamyr explained. “I will it to live, and it does so.”

“What, forever?” Evil queried.

“Well, yes, of course,” Va’alamyr replied, confused that there would even be a question about something as simple as life.

“Well, that’s borin’, innit,” Evil retorted. “Watch this.”

The creature Evil had been pointing to abruptly collapsed in the grass and ceased to breathe.

“What have you done?” Va’alamyr exclaimed. “You have made it cease to live!”

“Yeah, killed it,” Evil said frankly. “Necessary for progress, old chap.”

“Progress?” Va’alamyr replied, his face melting with sorrow for the loss of his creation.

“Oh, get over it, mate,” Evil said, waving the incident away. “Stuff staying the same is borin’. Fings need to change, and to change, fings need a reason to change, like death, ’cause who wants to just exist so they can die?”

Va’alamyr was not paying attention to the invader who had brought death to his realm. Gently, he reached down and cradled the dead creature in his hands. Somberly, the god blew a mouthful of breath at the limp body. After a moment, the creature began to stir, life returning to it. The smile on Va’alamyr’s face suddenly turned to horror as from out of the sky, a hawk swopped down and snatched the reborn creature away.

Furious, Va’alamyr spun on Evil. “How dare you make a mockery of the world I have created!”

“Nice one, eh? Look, mate,” Evil said frankly. “You definitely ain’t the only conjurer in this biz. Like I said, this little universe ain’t the only one there is, and you ain’t the only bloke out in the great wooly void making pretty li’l rocks and furries and shit. I’ve been doin’ this for nigh on eternity. I’m what you might call a consultant to the creators.”

Va’alamyr’s left eyebrow raised slightly.

“It’s not so much that this is all rubbish,” Evil explained. “It’s just that it can be better. And, if you let me help you, we can create the best bit of fluff the multiverse has ever seen. Dig?”

“I’m quite happy with what I’ve done here,” Va’alamyr replied, raising his chin slightly. “I see nothing wrong with it.”

Conspiratorially, Evil put his arm around Va’alamyr and whispered, as if others might hear, “Fact is, mate, the other creators are having a bit of a laugh at you. Here you are, out here all alone and playing with yer bits of fluffy happiness, and the rest of the creators are bustin’ out huge masterpieces of glorious beauty. They’re outdoing you by miles, old chum. You’re a laughing stock.”

Mortified, Va’alamyr tugged anxiously at his beard. He did not even realize there were others like him beyond the void, and now they were making fun of him?

“Relax, old bean,” Evil comforted, patting his shoulder. “Let me help you.”

“Would you?” Va’alamyr asked desperately. “Only, I do not wish to be seen in a poor light compared to the others.”

“Ain’t it the way?” Evil chuckled. “Not to worry, Val. We’ll do this up right.”

Evil led Va’alamyr to an open field where the grass was growing at an alarming rate.

“Let’s start right here,” Evil said, pointing to the the grass. “There’s too much of it. Way too much of this grass shit you’ve got everywhere.”

“I will remove it then,” Va’alamyr replied raising his hands to cause a portion of the grass to vanish.

“Hold on, hold on,” Evil exclaimed, grabbing Va’alamyr’s arms in exasperation. “You don’t have to be waving yer arms about all the time wasting yer powers. Why not let nature take care of it?”

Evil snapped his fingers, and suddenly, a dozen sheep appeared around them. Immediately, the sheep began to eat the grass. Within moments, the small hill they were standing on was sheared down to nearly nothing, and the sheep kept going.

“But they’ll devour it all,” Va’alamyr said in anger. “They eat all of it until there’s nothing left.”

“Wait for it,” Evil replied, raising a hand. “Next, you need predators.”

Snapping his fingers, Evil conjured up a pack of wolves, which then ravenously dashed after the sheep, who were already beginning to multiply.

In horror, Va’alamyr grabbed his head with both hands. “The carnage! They’ll devour them all!”

“See, now we’ve got to be clever, eh?” Evil replied confidently. Holding out a hand, he gestured for Va’alamyr to look at what he held.

“I don’t see anything,” Va’alamyr said, shaking his head.

“Microscopic,” Evil said, grinning evilly. “It’s a virus. A parasite. See, when I toss this into the grass, it’ll multiply a hell of a lot faster than those sheep or those wolves. It won’t hurt the sheep, but it will damn near decimate the predators. The sheep will eat the grass, catch the virus, then pass it on to the wolves when the wolves eat ’em. Then them wolves’ll die, right? Brilliant, eh? It’s all circles in creation these days, next big thing, cycles and shit.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Va’alamyr replied reluctantly. “But why the violence? Why not just let everything live in harmony, perpetually forever?”

“I told you, mate, it’s borin’,” Evil explained. “Death makes fings interesting. These creations of yours, now that they can die, will do whatever it takes to survive. In doing so, they’ll get smarter, faster, and more resilient. The wolves will develop an immunity to the virus, but the sheep will have flourished so much by then that there will never be enough wolves to cull them all, just enough to keep the balance, you see?”

“I think I do,” Va’alamyr said, nodding his head. “But doesn’t this take me out of the equation? Once this is all set in motion, what place do I have in this world?”

Evil’s smile grew exponentially. “Well, that’s the thing. Even gods need to die.”

With a casual thrust, Evil slipped the black blade he had been hiding into the celestial flesh of the great and omnipotent Va’alamyr. The god died with his eyes wide and full of fear, sputtering his last breaths.

“Hurt a bit, dinnit?” Evil cooed at him. “There, there, old bean. Settle down for a nice eternal nap, eh?”

Evil let the limp body fall to the ground. Using the same blade, Evil cut into the god’s chest and broke off a rib. Casting it to the ground, he began to hum. The vibrations grew tumultuous, shaking the ground for miles around him. Dirt from the ground began to gather around the rib, forming a shape not unlike Evil’s own form.

The human rose from the dirt and looked at its creator.

“Have fun, kiddo,” Evil said to it. He then blinked out of existence, on his way to another universe and another creator.