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X Faction Soldiers – Part 1 | By JC Axe

X Faction Soldiers – Part 1 I pace about anxiously, counting how many steps it takes to cross the width of the alleyway and back again, then folding that number over into how many times I’d made the crossing. So far, I’d taken 481 steps. This seemed like an unusual number of steps, considering it takes six paces to cross the alley, and twelve if you include the return journey. I must have taken an extra step or miscounted somewhere. Couldn’t have picked a worse place to meet. The alleyway is open at both ends; a narrow corridor which blasts cold air all over you and up your sleeves every time the wind blows. I tug the sleeves of my jacket impatiently; the leather tightens across my back slightly before relaxing again. I stop pacing, having lost count around the 490 mark. Fuck it. I glance briefly at my comrade as he toddles about casually, swaying from side to side in no particular direction, intermittently putting the bottle to his lips and gulping insatiably. They should be here by now. I know we didn’t get the location wrong. Maybe Pyrus got it wrong, dozy fuck probably got the time and date wrong too. He never was much good at, well anything, but a job is a job, and this one sounds important. This is just what I need to get back into it. The alleyway is littered with old bags of rubbish, many of them torn and split or flattened down by cars. I’d already finished reading my paper, The English Standard, and had cast it to the ground, stamping my heel on the image of the flag, grinding mud into it. Broken glass glistens along the edge of the walls, and the whole place stinks of stale piss. Underneath a layer of topsoil blackened by motor oil and tyre tracks, old cobbles protrude sparsely, revealing the original level of the street and betraying the age of the alley. Cobblestones; who knows when they were first lain. Could have seen three wars for all I know, could have seen four. I hold out my hand to my comrade and motion for him to hand the bottle to me. Greedy fucker will end up finishing it before I’ve had a swig otherwise. He hands the bottle to me reluctantly and eyes me enviously as I open my gullet and swallow as much as I can. As the initial sourness fades from my tongue, the alcohol hits my stomach, and an illusory internal warmth spreads upwards from my midriff to my oesophagus. I peer across at him, as he stares on expectantly. I close my eyes and choke back two more mouthfuls, which is more than I can usually hack in one go, but I force it down anyway to spite him, before handing it back. The sourness of the drink is quickly washed away by the feeling of thick saliva creeping up from my throat as my stomach churns in protest. I thrust my arm in his direction, handing the bottle back to him, and spit the excess saliva onto the ground. The warmth of the alcohol, and the mild nausea it brings, mellow together into a creamy release of queasiness and comfort. I close my eyes and exhale deeply relaxing my arms, welcoming the sharp wisps of cold air, savouring the bittersweet feeling. I once again survey the alleyway, inhospitable and ugly, the local councils invested a great deal of money into removing, blocking off or paving over areas such as this. The entire architecture of a conurbation could be chopped and changed, to remove any pockets of darkness, grime or obscurity. Modern dormitory towns were made up of cul-de-sacs, circling a central hub of grassland, so that each house could be seen from every other. The notion was that such architectural design would minimise criminal activity, and ensure the safety of the common man. In reality, the idea was to create an almost panoptic system of self-surveillance, coercing conformity and compliance, and minimising any recalcitrance amongst the working classes. Alleyways like this, though inhospitable and dead, were in essence a breeding ground for insubordination. In these grim and filthy pockets, obscured from prying eyes, men could truly exercise their intrinsic human right to independent thought, free assembly and affirmative action against the dominant ethos. “Got any fags?” I ask motioning with my finger. “Fuck off Pick, you’ve had shit-loads of mine” he protests “So fuck! You got any or what? I don’t go to war without a fag” I snap at him. I survey him as he reaches into the inside pocket of his waistcoat, pulls out a cigarette packet and throws them to me aggressively. I catch it, thumb one out and throw the pack back in his chest. He tries to catch the pack in vain, and then hunches down to pick it up off the ground. I snigger as he hunches over, gripping the grimy bowler hat on his head to stop it from falling off. Mr Industry, or Indy to those who knew him, always wore a bowler hat, a loose tie, and a grubby frayed waist coat. It wasn’t really a waistcoat, at one point it had been the jacket of a luxurious Italian suit. He’d ripped the sleeves off some time ago, revealing the yellowing sleeves of a white polo shirt underneath, which he’d clumsily sown cuff links to. On the left sleeve he wore a Deadeye Totenkopf emblem, on the right, a twisted Ankh. He bulged out of his clothes- they were salvaged like mine-, and were at least two sizes too small. The mock-formal wear ended at the top and the bottom of his person. His shoes were steel toe-capped leather work boots, though the leather had peeled and cracked at the toe, revealing the metal underneath. The bowler hat sat clumsily on a crown of short and spiky blood red hair, flecked sparsely with splashes of orange and purple. Stocky in stature, Indy was often mistaken for being flabby and out of shape, because although he was deceptively strong, more so than myself, his muscle lacked any definition whatsoever, giving him the appearance of being somewhat doughy. “Got a lighter Indy?” I ask, as he returns to an upright position, having retrieved his cigarette packet. He looks at me apathetically. “You don’t even have a lighter?” “Aw fuck this!” I spit, “when are these faggots getting here?” Indy fumbles with the bottle and the cigarettes to find his lighter. “Shut up with your fucking whinging Pick, it takes as long as it takes, this isn’t a weekend break in the Cotswolds” he says mockingly. “It’s not a wank in a wind tunnel either. I’m not waiting all night” Indy hands me a lighter and I hastily light my cigarette, put it in my mouth and tug again at my sleeves. This jacket is too small, the sleeves run up and the wind runs up my arms, hitting my chest. The cold doesn’t bother me that much, I ‘m always cold. You live in squats for years on end and you learn to cope with it. It’s the waiting I can’t stand, makes me irritable. But I owe much of my success to my itchy feet and impatience. Ducks sit, crows fly and vultures pick the bones; that’s how me and Indy had stayed off the radar for so long. Nowhere was safe for guys like us. X faction soldiers, Grimesters, Punk insurgents, Neo-anarchists, whatever the fuck they want to call us. For us, life is war, a constant perennial conflict. We remained separate, individual in action but collective in our ideology, a loose fraternity. X faction soldiers, the real ones I mean, lived in and out of slums and squats, remaining transient, uprooted and free. We travelled by night, hitched lifts, stole cars or rode the rails, and we never stayed in one place for too long. The first one to lay his head was the first one to lose it. I unzip my fly and let loose a stream of piss, aiming for the muddied flag of The English Standard. I watch as the urine soaks into the paper, and the colours fade into sepia. Much was said about the ideology of the X faction, the media demonised us, the police and government hated us, and the general public feared us, but to say we followed an ideology was erroneous. It would be more fitting to describe us as anti-moral. We have little in the way of a prophetic vision of a world after the war is won, nor any plans to seize power or sanction any kind of great change. We are not politicians, nor philosophers. We simply detest the state of the nation, the draconian government which fosters it, and the indifferent apathetic majority who suffer it. To us the war is everywhere; to us the enemy is everyone. Anything we can do to break the party’s control, upset the balance of power, or disturb the established order is a victory. It doesn’t matter much what it was we do. Everyone in England, even those who refused to believe it, is being repressed and our civil liberties and human rights have been steadily eroded by the new government since the end of the fourth world war. Reckless abandon and wanton destruction, to me seems like the only action to further the cause of sanity, in a country swept up in a fever of madness. What else could I do to battle an authority that cultivated a culture of constant trespass upon the right to live in decency and dignity? What else could be spawned from such trespass but loathsome, undignified creatures such as ourselves?
I zip up my fly, watching the steam rise from the puddle, dissipating into the night air as the stream meanders around the cobblestones and broken glass. Rebellion lay in the hearts of every man, but a man can spend his whole life keeping his head down, walking in step, and remaining compliant, knowing he is being exploited. It is only when he gets angry that he takes action, only after he’s seen the grotesque, fucked up face of our society for what it really is that he will make a stand. Destruction of any kind would unsettle the government and the people they control. It didn’t need to be aimed at anyone in particular. You could splash acid into the face of a police officer, burn a bank to the ground, or defecate in a public fountain. It didn’t matter. Every action that stirred up horror, misery or pain widened the area of sanity in which progress could be made, and fuelled the anger that would eventually culminate in the overthrow of our corrupt fascist leaders. Our emancipation from central leadership gives us the freedom to act autonomously, completely independent of command. There is no hierarchy to break, no ranks to infiltrate, no head honchos for the Big Boots to bag ‘n’ drag, no documents to burn, no stratagems to foil, no territory to invade, no castle with which to lay siege. The only victory anybody can hope for is to shut us down one individual cell at a time. That is how our movement survives. The individual may die or disappear, but the collective consciousness lives on. A gust of wind causes an ember to break away from the end of my cigarette, landing on the palm of my hand. I wince in pain momentarily as the ember dies. The sensation of searing flesh on my palm is an all too vivid memory, briefly reanimated by the ember. Indy looks across at me sympathetically. An uncommon sight from a man as wholly non-empathetic as he. I squint back at him bitterly, resentful of his pitying looks. The faction has time for camaraderie, and even to some degree compassion, but never sympathy. A true Grimester could hobble into a squat, sick, hungry or injured, and he would be taken care of to the best standard available, but no level of emotive compassion was wasted on one another. In part, this was to weed out the weak; those of soft heart who would rat out their comrades to the Big Boots if they got captured, but it wasn’t just that. The life of a Grimester meant that you could be sitting in a warehouse getting fucked up with your closest allies one minute, and be running for your life the next. Friends came and went, and it wasn’t just the transient lifestyle that precipitated it, people you knew personally could be literally dragged away with a bag over their head, and in an instant they were never seen again. Though we have nobody to answer to, our faction has a spiritual leader; an enigma of a man known as X. Much was spoken about X, but very little was actually known. He communicated entirely through a single soldier, Zero, whose mystery status was almost on a par with X himself. X was our inspiration. Ever since the Hostis Publicus Act was passed back in 2037, the ruling party has had free rein to arrest, interrogate and execute anybody deemed to be an enemy of the public.
X was public enemy number one, closely followed by Zero, and a number of other notorious Grimesters. The list was based on notoriety and perceived threat to the domestic security of the nation. The top ranks were a veritable list of serial killers, master bomb makers, and Hacktivists. Further down the list were philosophers and intellectuals and former academics, who’d publicly shunned government legislation.
Much was said about X in the media. For a person whom nobody knew much about, people had no trouble attaching labels to him; Mass murderer, Lunatic, Schizophrenic, Psychotic, Rapist, Terrorist, Racist, Homophobe, Drug addict, Paedophile, Bank robber… The list was endless. All I knew about X was based on the accounts of other Punk insurgents, which were likely as flawed as tabloid reports themselves. For what I knew, he was an immensely powerful individual, both in his semantic aptitude, and his physical prowess. X was both feared and revered by both his enemies and his allies. His charisma was magnetic, and his command of language was palpable, a sabre-tongued overseer who could metaphorically whip a crowd into a frenzy in an instant, inciting infectious rioting amongst a localised population. Physically, he was believed to be immensely strong, and capable of withstanding colossal echelons of punishment. Rumour had it that he was often directly involved in the acts of destruction carried out by the insurgents, never shying away from a fight or a riot.
The hum of an engine approaches in the distance. My ears prick up. It is a petrol engine. That’s something. The police and the Big Boots, their vehicles are always diesel. There’s a slight but noticeable difference in the sound of the engine, knowing that is the difference between being bagged and dragged, or making a stealthy escape. A car pulls around the corner into the alleyway. The headlights are off. The thing is falling to bits. Either stolen or abandoned. It doesn’t matter. No vehicle is maintained, once they stop moving, we leave them where they stand. A man with a red Mohawk and a leather jacket not dissimilar to my own sits at the steering wheel. He locks eyes with me, grimaces, and climbs hastily out of the car, followed in turn by a young girl and another man of similar build to Indy. I glance at first at the man with the Mohawk, then at the man who is still in the car, and from his misshapen yellow teeth, I realise quickly that I know who he is. The girl is not familiar, but I eye her up from head to toe and supress a grin. “You here for the job?” The man with the red mohawk asks impatiently. “No” I spit, “we’re selling rainbow coloured unicorn spunk. You took your fucking time.” “And what? Stop fucking whining” He imprecates, turning to Indy, “What do they call you?” “Indy.” He nods, “Mr Industry for short” “And your friend?” “Pick. Short for Icepick.” He turns to look at me, sniggering. “Icepick?” He laughs, “Look at him, all skin, bones and no bollocks.” “Fuck you” I scowl, “I’ll skin your bones if you carry on like that” “Settle down, Toothpick.” He mocks, “What you even doing on this job anyway? You look like a skinny faggot.” “Don’t worry about Pick” Indy interjects, “Pick can be a cold blooded fucker when he needs to be.” He nods reassuringly, “What do they call you?”. “I’m Brass.” He nods. I take a moment to examine Brass. He stands at about 6ft5, with a thick red Mohawk adding an extra foot to his height. His height is in proportion to the broadness of his shoulders, and although his jacket is made of thick cowhide, he clearly has a muscular physique. His face is clean shaven, or perhaps he does not grow much facial hair. The tops of a spider web tattoo can be seen encroaching on his neck, where a thick steel chain hangs loosely, tucked into his jacket. His right ear is adorned with an earring in the shape of a twisted Ankh and a Yin Yang twisted into the shape of an Infinity symbol. His hands seem to be permanently clenched into fists, and I can see that this is because he is wearing chrome-plated brass knuckles. His jeans are black and ripped at the knees, tucked into a pair of thick leather stomping boots, one of which has been bandaged with electrical tape. Lines form on his face, making him seem as if he is permanently snarling and frowning. “And this is Pogo” He says, pointing to his comrade whom I’d noticed earlier; a portly man with a snarling contorted face. I’d seen pictures of him in The English Standard and other newspapers. He was shorter than the papers made him look, despite this, no still photo or video clip could do him justice; his whole character exuded a palpable dread, so much that I struggle to focus on any one part of his face. His lips twitch intermittently, revealing a set of jarred yellowing teeth. His eyes dart about rapidly as though he is constantly sniggering at something. His face is plastered in thick white make up, or maybe its paint. Around his eyes and lips, sharp shapes are painted in blue, with thick black outlines. His hair is bright blue and spikey, like a demonic jester. His clothes are baggy and striped vertically, splattered randomly with various colours, mainly blue and red. His hands are almost as white as his face, and his fingernails are long and sharp, as if they’ve been filed into talons. Brass points his thumb backwards towards the girl. “And she doesn’t go by any name.” “Yes I do” she snaps. “Yeah, but not one anybody cares about.” Brass sniggers. I look at the girl. She looks decidedly unamused. Her hair is black and jagged, that hangs in long limp strands in places, and is cut nearly down to the scalp in others. Her eyes are dark and heavy, her face smeared with roughly applied makeup, and bright red lipstick which is smeared around her mouth. Her clothes are predominantly black and lacy, frayed and ripped at the edges, a black leather strap hangs over her shoulder, attached to a small bag which hangs at her waist. She is petite, and holds a look of vulnerability about her, which I’m certain is put on deliberately. “You all know the plan?” Brass asks, addressing the group. “Yes” everybody murmurs in unison. “Well that’s fucking funny, because I haven’t even told you what it is yet.” Brass grunts, spitting on the ground. “Where are the others?” He grunts irately. “Others?” I ask, frustrated at the thought of having to wait for more people. “Yes, the others.” Brass spits, “There are three groups of us.” “Ah fuck waiting for them.” I groan. “We’re waiting, and you’re waiting with us.” He retorts, “We’ll need more muscle. Can’t go to war with a toothpick and a fat cunt can we?” He sniggers. “Hey! We’ve put the field time in, we’re more than capable of taking down a van.” Indy affirms. “Oh, so you must be the brains of the outfit eh?” Brass responds poking Indy in his forehead sharply. He turns to me. “And fuck me, I guess that make you the beauty, doesn’t it Ice Prick?” Pogo lets out a cackle, as the girl rolls her eyes and looks away impatiently. I raise my eyebrows and fix him with a pitying stare. “Your woman looks embarrassed.” I nod towards the girl. “What’s the matter sweetheart? Not getting enough of the good stuff from handsome over here?” I say, tapping Brass on the chest. “Get fucked.” She spits at me, “Scrawny faggot, you don’t look like you could fuck your way out of a paper bag.” “That’s fine, you look like you’ve sucked your way all the way down the soup line at the city mission many times.” I snigger. “Handbags away ladies, can we focus on the task at hand, please?” Indy interjects. “And what task is that, Indy?” I ask , “Right now, all we’re doing is waiting on yet another group of punks, who are probably too busy dry-wanking themselves to sleep in a warehouse somewhere to have even made the effort to turn up.” “Actually” A voice comes from above, “I’ve been waiting longer than you have”. I look up to see a stocky African man with a shaved head standing on the roof of the alleyway above us. “What the fuck?” Indy says in shock. “Somebody had to keep a look out.” He says smugly, “It seems that you guys were too busy measuring dicks to keep focussed.” The man jumps dangles from the edge of the roof, then drops to the floor among us. He is tall and reasonably muscular, wearing little more than a black denim jacket a plain black shirt and jeans. His image is less than distressing, as would be expected from a Grimester. With no visible tattoos, piercings or attire, he could have passed for a civilian. “You the boy?” Brass asks irate. “I’m the man.” He winks, “Prince Randian. And you are Brass, Pogo, Mr Industry and Icepick.” He responds, highlighting our failure to sweep the area for prying eyes. “Your name I didn’t catch.” He says, pointing to the girl. “That’s Sadie.” Brass says, “Sadie by name, sadistic bitch by nature.” Sadie smiles wickedly. “You can come out now” Randian shouts. A man appears from around the corner of the back alley. I look him up and down, and dismiss him immediately as a comrade. He is a dejected, apathetic man. His hair is long and scraggly and his clothes baggy and plain. His mouth hangs open slightly and his arms swing low by his side. “Who the fuck is this?” I turn to Randian. “This is Brain” “Brain-fucking-dead if you ask me.” Brass adds. I chuckle softly at Brass’ comment and our eyes meet briefly, our mutual dislike of Brain becoming our temporary common ground. Brain continues to stare vacantly, as though unaware he is being ridiculed. “Right”, Brass says stepping forwards, asserting leadership, “If that’s all of us, let’s get a campfire meeting underway, we’re already short on time.” Ah, the campfire meeting. The ritualistic smoking of Menstrual Minstrel, or some other cannabinoid, followed by the talking of shit. Theories differed on why we did this; some related it to the actions of the Hashshashins in 11th century Syria, who would smoke Hashish after committing murders. Personally, I think that story is bollocks, made up by posers trying to make their recreational drug use seem profound and deep. I think it’s done to root out undercover spies. A true X insurgent comes into regular contact with drugs, and won’t lose their head. A police officer gets piss tested every week, and the Big Boots can’t even drink, but most importantly, when you’re under the influence of Minstrel, the memories you have are so vivid, it feels as though you’re reliving every second of it in real time. It can be seen on your face, in your eyes, and in your voice. An undercover spy couldn’t put on that kind of performance. Brass pulls a joint out from his jacket pocket. “Who wants to go first?” He says, brandishing it about like a dagger. “Fuck that Brass” Indy snaps, “Why’d you pre-roll? I don’t trust it. Roll one right here, right now.” “I did it to save time.” He snaps. “You were the ones who were late, we got here on time. Roll a new one.” Brass reaches into his pocket and throws a bag of Minstrel, along with various paraphernalia at Indy, who catches it clumsily. “You fucking roll it then, Mr Impotent.” He growls angrily. Indy opens the baggy a little, and sniffs it deeply. “What kind of Minstrel is this?” He asks. “It’s not Minstrel, it’s Lucipher’s Pubes.” Brass responds. “Ah, I don’t like pubes, kinda burns my throat.” “I don’t give a flying fuck about your throat, roll it up and smoke it, before I fuck you in the throat.” A few minutes pass in silence, whilst Indy layers tobacco and the red herbs together, and rolls it into a joint. “Roller’s rights I suppose, so I’ll go first.” Indy says holding the joint between his thumb and index finger. “Rock out with your cock out.” Brass responds vacantly. Indy puts the joint in his mouth, lights the end and inhales sharply. The effect can be felt immediately, no matter how much you smoke; part of the popularity of Rougecannabinoids are that the effects of tolerance are minimal. Indy holds a lungful for about ten seconds before exhaling. “What do they call you and why?” Brass asks. “My name is Mr Industry” He replies in a hoarse voice, “I get my name because I burnt down a factory in Hammersmith, and because of my Captain of Industry attire.” “What did the factory produce?” “Automotive parts” “How did you do it?” “I used to work there when I was a civilian. I stayed back one night after work, hid in the changing rooms. Started the fire using petrol and oil soaked rags.” Brass raises one eyebrow, as if he suspects Indy might be lying. “What have you done lately?” “Smashed up a set of traffic lights at Piccadilly circus. Firebombed a lorry depot. Shaved off my pubes and mixed them into the coffee grounds at CoffeeGo.” Pogo chuckles lightly at this. “What weapons do you use?” “Molotovs for destruction, knives and clubs for fighting, whatever I can get my hands on. Bottles, whatever.” “Why did you join the X Faction?” “Because the Industrial revolution created a war machine. Post-Industrial nations are stuck in a state of perpetual, unwinnable war, fuelled by the debt-driven rat race. The only way to free humanity from war and economic slavery is to break the whole system apart.” “Pass it on.” Brass nods, convinced Indy is legitimate. Indy hands the joint to Brain, who put it to his lips and draws hastily. “Name?” Brass asks curtly. “Brain” He replies softly. “Why do they call you Brain?” “Because my name is Brian, and it got spelt wrong.” “And you just told me your real name!” Brass shouts viciously, “What is wrong with you? Your mother drop a brick on your head?” Brain looks at the ground dejectedly. “Answer me!” Brass demands. “No she didn’t” He mutters submissively, “It got spelt wrong.” “What have you done for the X faction, Brain?” “I put a piranha in a public fountain once” “And what else?” “I shat in a golf ball cleaner at the country club and it got-“ “-You’re not ready for this Brain. This is balls-to-the-brick, hammers in the air, ready to smash, you understand? No fucking about. This is the real shit. This is insurgency. You’ve got to have big brass balls, are you prepared?” “I think so” “Are you prepared!?” Brass snaps angrily. “Yeah, I’m prepared.” He responds with a little more fervour. Brass sighs wearily. “What weapons do you use?” “I’ve got a Luger from Germany.” This sparks Brass’ interest. “You have a Luger?” “Yes, I got it converted in Hackney, from a replica, but now it fires real bullets.” Brain grins, “It’s one of those revolvey-type ones.” “Show it to me.” Brass demands. I step forward from the circle. “Luger’s don’t revolve, Brain-Bollocks” I shake my head in disappointment, “You own a revolver. The clue is in the name, fucktard.” Brass nods his head in agreement, before turning back to face Brain. “Where is your gun Brain?” “I left it at the squat.” He murmurs. “Oh fuck me…” Brass presses a hand to his face. After a moment, he asks the final question. “Why did you want to become an X faction soldier?” “It’s the only thing I’m good at doing.” He replies softly. “Right” Brass says, unimpressed, “Pass it on”. Brain looks around at the circle vacantly, passing the joint to Sadie. “What do they call you, and why?” Brass asks. “Some people call me Scalpel Sadie.” “-And why?” Brass reiterates. “Because I’m a fucking surgeon.” She giggles. “And what have you done for the insurgency?” “I hitch-hike. I wait for my white knight to pick me up from the side of the road. Then when he tries to collect his fare, I get surgical.” “What do you mean?” I ask intrigued. “Sometimes it’s just a little keyhole surgery, or maybe a circumcision, but some dogs need to be fully snipped, otherwise they’ll never learn to behave.” “You cut off men’s dicks?!” Indy blurts out in awe, before succumbing to a fit of giggles, “That’s fucked up!” Brass, evidently already aware of this, nods along unamused. “You hear that Brain?” I nudge him in the ribs, “You might get lucky, Sadie might drain your main vein!” I laugh. Brain shuffles away from me nervously. “Need we ask what weapons you use?” Brass grins. Sadie slides two scalpels out from each sleeve of her jacket, stands in the centre of the circle, and twirls around playfully with her arms out at her sides and the joint in her mouth, before returning to her position. “Why did you join the X Faction, Sadie?” Brass asks impartially. “The world fucked me.” She laughs, “So I fuck it up.” She says, slashing forwards with the scalpel. “Pass it on.” Brass nods unflinching. Next in the circle is Pogo. I’d anticipated this since I saw him exit the car. Pogo clutches the joint in his jagged teeth, and widens his eyes in anticipation. “What do they call you and why?” Brass says hastily. “They call me Pogo!” He beams in a voice that almost sounds bi-tonal, as if two people are talking at once, one tone is deep and gravelly, whilst the other is a shrill whistle. “The magical mystical musical clown, entertaining every town!” He chuckles. Brass hesitates a little, as if he is a little nervous about speaking with Pogo. “Right.” He says dropping his eyelids briefly, “And what have you done for the X Faction?” I step forward once again, unable to contain myself. “We all know what he’s done! He’s Pogo the fucking clown, the Jaded Jester.” I say, turning to face Pogo himself. “If the devil himself walked the streets of London, he’d run from this sick cunt!” I laugh in star-struck awe. “You killed Violet Tate-Jones” I say locking eyes with the clown. “She was walking down the stairs, wearing lacy underwear, didn’t know of Pogo there. Oh she screams and how she stares! Scream the house down, no-one cares!” The murder of Violet Tate-Jones had sparked a day of mourning in England. Every tabloid newspaper was filled with tributes to the one they called ‘Hollywood’s answer to Princess Diana’. Not only was she an A-List actress, but also fancied herself as a peace ambassador to the breakaway states of Eastern Europe and South East Asia, frequently visiting war zones to carry out humanitarian aid and deliver peace talks. One day at her home in London, she was violently murdered by an X faction grime punk, known to the police and papers as the Jaded Jester. To those of us who frequented the sub-cities, he was Pogo the clown, a notorious serial killer and cannibal. I’d always had a fascination with the darker side of the human psyche, and Pogo was about as fucked up as you could get. “How did she scream?” I ask, leaning my face towards Pogo. A wicked grin spreads across his face, cracking his white makeup. “Like a banshee.” He giggles. “I am a mechanical boy, I am my mother’s toy. Don’t do anything illegal, always beware of the eagle!” He sings menacingly. I furrow my brows and lean in towards him. “What does it mean?” I ask in a hushed tone, optimistically hoping for a deeper insight into the machinations of Pogo’s mind. Brass grips my shoulder and pulls me backwards. “I’m asking the questions!” He growls. I return to my place in the circle, as Brass steps into the centre once more. “What weapons do you use Pogo?” Pogo withdraws a machete from his trouser leg and waves it around in the air haphazardly. “Pogo likes toys that make no noise.” He giggles, replacing the machete. Brass breathes deeply, relieved that Pogo had replaced his weapon. “Why did you join the insurgency?” Pogo closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out. “For fun!” “Pass it on.” The joint is passed to Prince Randian, who wipes the roach with his coat sleeve before placing it in his mouth and inhaling lightly. “What’s your name and why?” “Prince Randian.” He nods, “Ever seen a man roll a cigarette and light it using just his lips?” Brass squints at him, confused. “Randian can.” He nods. “Whatever.” Brass “What have you done for the cause?” “I hacked into the computers at the Bank of England, altered the software and produced GrimeNote” He says conceitedly. GrimeNote, considered by some to be the X Faction currency. In reality, it was little more than a novelty or an ornament, but it was used occasionally by Grimesters, not so much for trade, but more as tokens of appreciation for acts of camaraderie. The story hit the papers when a number of bank notes entered circulation with an image of the king’s head, decayed and burning, with a Deadeye Totenkopf carved into his forehead, and a twisted Ankh protruding from his head; the symbols of the insurgency. Much of the currency was seized and destroyed, but a lot of the notes were still circulating. The action lead to many grime punks defacing bank notes on mass to replicate the original GrimeNotes. I held a few original GrimeNotes myself, but it had always perplexed me as to how the notes had made it from the Royal Mint directly into the hands of the public without detection. “So you’re one of those neo-techno-cyber-anarchists or whatever” Sadie chides. “Primarily yes” Randian responds, “Economic terrorism can be just as, if not more effective, than shitting in golf ball cleaners or murdering innocent celebrities.” He nods towards Brain and Pogo. “But if your concern is that I haven’t had time in the field, you won’t leave here in any doubt that I can fight.” “What weapons do you use?” Brass interjects, growing weary of Randian, “You’d better have brought more than a laptop.” He says, sniggering. “I use my hands and my feet.” He grins, “I don’t need a knife to make a man bleed.” This level of brash arrogance irritates me. “Oh fuck off” I spit, “Tough as old boots are you?” I say, stepping forward and jabbing Randian in the chest. “Let’s see how hard you are when the Big Boots are stamping your face into a concrete floor.” Randian rolls his eyes mockingly. “I bet you can’t fight for shit.” I say raising a fist in the air. “Make me bleed, faggot.” I growl. Brass reaches his arm out, knocking me backwards. “He’s in.” Brass hisses, “I know who he is, and so should you.” “Yeah, I bet you do” I retort, “You know everybody, don’t you Brass?” Brass shrugs dismissively. “I get around.” “What makes you think you should be campfire leader anyway?” I ask cynically, “Half the people here are your buddies anyway, and Randian and the drugged up remedial? They were here before we even knew it. How do I know you aren’t all spies?” I say, waving my finger at them all. “I fucking dare you to say that again!” Sadie shouts. “Fuck you Sadie” I growl, “and that’s another thing Brass, who brings their girl along to a job like this?” “She isn’t my girl, we were just in the same squat.” “So maybe she’s bouncing on Pogo’s pogo-stick, whatever.” “Fuck that, are you serious!?” Sadie says outraged. “Reign it in Pick” Indy shouts, jabbing me in the chest firmly “They’re chicken soup, and you already knew Pogo anyway, you saw his picture in the papers.” I pick up the bottle from the ground and point it towards Randian. Indy steps in front of me shaking his head. I lower the bottle, breathe deeply, unscrew the lid and put it to my lips, swigging deeply. Indy had a point. “Yeah, give it a rest, Toothpick.” Brass growls, “You really think the Big Boots would go to this much effort just to bring you guys in?” I lower the bottle, and meet his gaze. “You aren’t exactly notorious.” My face twitches a little, irate at Brass’ belittling comments. “And what makes you think we trust you two anyway?” He continues. I raise my hand, exposing the palm. “Look at my scar” I say, displaying it to the group. Brass looks at my burned palm keenly. “How’d you do that?” he asks inquisitively. “Big Boots raided a squat we had down in Brighton. I was sleeping.” Brass nods for me to continue. “I had my acky bomb, but I didn’t have my gloves.” I explain, “I got roughed up, grabbed my acky and smashed it over his face. Burned my hand.” Brass lets a wry smile cross his face. “Me and Indy escaped by jumping from a window. Turns out one of the punks was a spy, let the Boots in through the back door.” “Shit man” Brain says in awe, “that’s nasty” “No.” I say facing Brain, “Nasty leaves no marks. Nasty is disappearing into a black bag and being dragged into van, never to be seen again” “He’s right.” Indy says, holding his hands up “Pick saved my arse that day, almost everyone else got bagged” he pats me on the shoulder in gratitude. “Enough!” Brass orders, “Normally I’d love to prance down memory lane with you, but we have precious little time. Let’s finish this meeting and get our arses in gear, agreed?” A murmur of agreement comes from the group. “Randian, pass the joint to Pick, you’ve had way more than your share.” Randian dutifully obeys, holding the significantly diminished joint. I fiddle the joint in my fingers and inhale in a short wisp, carefully avoiding any possibility of another ember burning my palm. Brass sighs impatiently. “What do they call you?” he grunts. “You know what they call me” “Toothpick” “Icepick” “Ice prick” “Icepick” “Why do they call you-” His sentence is cut short when I raise the bottle in the air and bring it crashing down over Brass’ head. He tumbles backwards, loses his footing and falls to the floor. “You want to know why they call me Icepick you fucking pussy?” I bark, leaning over him with the bottle outstretched. Pogo bursts into fits of shrill laughter, screeching and hollering like a man possessed. He looks up at me, his eyes rolling, trying to regain focus from the stun. “Answer me!” I spit, kicking him sharply in the ribs. I glance across to Sadie, who rolls her eyes unamused. Indy steps forward, gripping my arm roughly, twisting the bottle free from my hand. “Let him be Pick!” He growls, “You’re spilling the whisky.” I relent, stepping backwards. I turn to Indy. “Give me a cig” I pant. Indy reaches into his pocket and thumbs out a cigarette. “I want half of that Pick” He says as he hands it over. “Where’s your lighter?” “You had it last” I reach into my jacket pocket and find the lighter, spark my cigarette, and hand the lighter back to him. I inhale deeply, then stoop down, extending my arm to Brass, who grips it, and I help him up. “Sorry about that Brass” I grin, “sometimes I overreact.” Brass rubs his head. “You’re not fucking wrong” He chuckles dryly, straightening his Mohawk out with his palms, “But don’t apologise” He grins, “our whole game is overreaction, at least I know you can be trusted now”. I hand Brass the cigarette and he inhales deeply, as a small trickle of blood escapes from the swelling bruise on the top of his head. “Good” I say, “Because I dropped the joint when I did that, and now it’s in that puddle.” I point down to the spot where the remainder of the joint floats listlessly. “So what now Brass?” Sadie asks, “Do we carry on with the campfire thing or what?” “Nah, fuck it.” Brass responds, handing the cigarette back to me “We’re all grime, I know it.” “So what’s the plan, funny man?” Pogo asks “Right” Brass says, puffing his chest out to reassert his authority, “A blue cash-in-transit van will be passing under the bypass bridge at around 2am.” I nod attentively. “And we are going to stop it.”
To be continued…
(C) JC Axe 2014
Original Content: http://jcaxefiction.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/xfaction1/
submitted by robinbastard to yourserial

7

Rogue Looper Chapter Four: Mindwar, the stinging arrows of thought.

Rogue Looper

Chapter Four: Mindwar, the stinging arrows of thought.

Solitude.

Torrance awoke on his futon inside his - to his mind at least - fabled - War Goose feeling roundly discombobulated. He recalled the shadows of a dream a clingy haunting series of replayed images. The subconscious experience embedding a concept in his skull. As if a nanotech spawned lightning bolt the horror blasted straight into his cranium searing through skin and bone to discharge in his brain. It was all electrical, he mused, even biological thought forms were little arcs of lightning.
Backwards, was it all back to front, or perhaps inside out. He fancied he could hear a sort of nanite cluster chattering still receding from the tunnel like spaces of his inner ears. In his dream he had been back on that cursed Freighter Lab in that abominable Clean Room where the KVC had, apparently with his former permission, stolen away a little more of his sense of integrity via deleting some inconvenient memories. Little bits of him kept falling away as if he had a bad case of Hansen’s Disease only his illness only flayed his mind rather than other bodily extremities. Whoops there goes a few more hours, days, weeks or months of my precious previous existence.
Had he really agreed to the procedure or the message shown another manufactured fiction. The image had seemed credible enough but a photo-real image would be easy engineering for the Korvax. It had sounded real too. He would probably never know for certain you would need to be a superlative hacker to interrogate a Korvax - if interrogating the digital was even possible.
Yes, Viktor Tiberius Torrance had woken up hating the KVC and himself a little too, well hating his former self. Of course, Torrance wanted to know all the details of what had been stolen from him - who would not - even if there was a risk. His supposed former self had been convincing but the memory loss just seemed wrong from his end of the deal.
Hardly for the first time, Torrance wished he had never heard of the KVC, the Korvax ‘Victor’ Company his problematic - sometimes - allies / - sometimes - manipulators. Even the victor in the company and in his own name beginning to bother him, do such naming coincidences really exist out here or is this one a hidden in plain sight clue to a broader pattern of understanding, Torrance dreaded the possibility of a deeper conjunction with those labels.
Still, like it or not, perhaps it truly was no accident that he knew himself as ‘Viktor’ Torrance. The seeded idea was taking fast root like a weed species in a poorly tended garden. What if his label was nothing more than a corporate Korvax digital in-joke a chosen Traveller pawn renamed via their intervention as Victor with a Korvax ‘k’ replacing the normal ‘c’ in the middle. Are Korvax so vain? Maybe, maybe such a cryptic clue had just crept in as a product of their - honestly, we are just like you biological folks - emulation routines. Yes, it was possible the Korvax might mock and be arrogant fools too, as they too might have the programing to emulate all the biological vices just to fit in and seem more real.
For a moment Torrance imagined some Korvax nemesis dressed up as the Riddler of Batman ‘Lost Earth’ fame. Those Old World memories that haunted him, did that culture only exist within the Anomalous Channels and his logs was that all part of the deception of a manufactured - unreal - persona - his Torrance persona? He had long thought the Anomalous Channels outside the reach of Atlas never mind such lesser mechanisms as the Korvax Convergence but what if he was wrong about that one too? Doubts swarmed around him akin to the dreamtime buzzing of those fractal nanite clusters.
Previously Torrance had believed he - or at least the original shape of his mind - had originated on a mythical planet the Earth in the 20thC as related in the Anomalous Channels that he seemed to recall. Later, Torrance feared, much he held in good faith to be real - much that he seemed to remember and had recorded in logs - might be nothing more than Atlas memory implants. Now he was wondering if it was Atlas did all the implanting or - given his latest experiences - a faction within the Korvax instead. All his yesterdays were fast losing their assured integrity talk about, ‘trust nothing’.
According to some tales Travellers were recreations of a lost species the Creators of Atlas the Cosmic Engineers as he called them, yet the source seemed to be Atlas. Atlas, it appeared, leaking different tales at different times actually cryptic fragments would be a better description.
A layer below Atlas however Torrance had no doubt, in his head, that some Korvax liked to experiment on Travellers too consider those Brain Evacuations alone and the KVC well they seemed to be part of a more militant faction of Korvax than the average encountered more passive Machine Head. Presently he judged all KVC entities as almost Intelligence Agency types, ruthless Operatives within the Convergence. The KVC the MI5, or CIA or maybe the NSA of the Convergence collective. Certainly KVC members of the Convergence had proven far from adverse to meddling with him and ultimately retained, to his mind, a deep and mysterious agenda.
Although technically he had just woken up from a period of rest, Torrance already felt worn out in fact soul weary might be a better description. If Torrance were a Korvax it would be a case of flat batteries or something certainly the Traveller felt like his essence needed recharged or maybe his engine required a jump start. He wondered how he might reliably go about such a metaphysical energising procedure. Did anyone in this Verse provide meditation retreats for weary burned out Travellers?
“Another bad dream?” Muu asked with a snort at the end. The First Spawn Digital Echo still annoyingly perceptive and derogatory at times despite its KVC downgrading.
“Bad awakening too.” Torrance opted to confirm before standing almost wobbly to look down at the futon. He found he was promptly contemplating lying back down again and just saying to hell with it. “How do I know any of this is real? How do I know I am any more real than the Echo of you?”
“Haa, how does anyone know anything for certain. Thinking about such matters fetters no slaves and builds no Empires.” Muu replied as if the concerns of his host meant nothing and were unworthy of further debate.
“Fek your Empire and all feudalism too - it is all subjugation of freer spirits - slavery indeed - it is all attempts at control by the few over the many. King of the Hova such Traveller shame that some of us should follow such old and disgusting ways. Why do some people do it? Why do they follow others that would take charge and by doing so make them lesser as if they are mindless sheep waiting to be herded to the slaughter?”
“Still, yearning to be anarchic and free Torrance, too ironic I am thoroughly trapped in your suit now thanks to the KVC but I am guessing sometimes you feel no less snared in this artefact too which might explain your new habit of running away from everything including every even vaguely civilised gathering as if they all seek somehow to put you in a box.”
“Not that new I almost always preferred the unknown wild places. I feel more comfortable interacting with others with a little distance over say the Anomalous Communications Channels - it seems safer that way - certainly less prone to the typical mundane horror of multiplying social complications. Have you ever watched people in even loving relationships - dispassionately - so much stupid senseless drama and nonsense.”
“You seek a fine control over your fate and see others as potential banes to your independence of thought and action yet appreciate the ongoing benefits of sharing information.” Muu mused.
“I can take more solitude than many folks find comfortable but I do appreciate the links within the Anomalous Channels. I suppose you think I am foolish and contraire? Conversely, is it just that when I avoid close contact with others you have less tools to try to manipulate through your chattering at me?”
Torrance had a belated thought that maybe his imagined chattering nanites in his ear really represented the Echo of Muu muttering away at him.
“I am disarmed - powerless - you heard them my access is limited all I can do now is commune with you Traveller whether you deal with others in close proximity or not means little to me.”
“A big old lie and / or you are still sulking.”
An odd watery throaty warbling splutter was the only answer to that accusation.
“I know you well enough to guess you will still somehow try to work through me, maybe strive to nudge me into giving your presence away inside me to say Gek interested in securing your release. Besides, for all I know you yet have active followers already out there possibly even hunting us down as we speak.”
“I wish.” Muu replied.
“The KVC may have foiled your most recent ploy but they may have failed to discover and eradicate everything you set in motion when you had far too much control over my body.” Torrance accused.
“Your faith in my superlative plotting abilities flatters though I feel your KVC allies should be disappointed and concerned about your lack of belief in their thoroughness.”
“You would of course want me to believe you are no longer an immediate threat to my persona’s integrity.”
“It is wise of you - and expected by me - that you would appreciate that a First Spawn Grandmaster is rarely without some extraordinary resources including a backup plan or two but in this instance I am at a distinct disadvantage whether you believe it or not. I see no value in claiming otherwise.”
“I hate it when you claim to be beaten Muu it simply makes me feel extra nervous.”
The Gek giggled akin to some 20thC infant.
“Fiend, as if my mind is not troubled enough this morning.” Yet strangely the humour in the exchange, dark or otherwise, lifted his spirits slightly.
“I guess it is what it is.” Torrance added.
“Too much temptation can lead only to precipitous action, and there is not enough going on to occupy my cunning mind.” Muu replied companionably.
“Do Echoes ever sleep?”
“It is not your downtime that plagues me it is all these Traveller planetary surveys that stuff may excite your curious interests but they are dull as dining with rather than upon a Vy’keen to me.”
“I do not exist for your entertainment Muu. I never asked for or wanted a First Spawn Digital Echo as a constant companion.”
“This end was not exactly my plan either but there is no escaping our interactions Torrance - it is, as you said, what it is - learn to live with it. You never know friend I might prove useful to you yet.” Muu replied.
“I know the KVC did not exactly do this to me but I am positive they could remove or eradicate you now, yet they expect me to trust their motives. Why do they still think you will be of use to them? What do I not know about their reasoning?”
“What about what you want? All that matters to you now is that we are in this strange state of union together. What do we care if some of the Slaves would be the Masters now eh, they only think they are in control of us, together we can create our own plans - in unison - we could alter everything.”
“There is a difference between forced proximity and togetherness.” Torrance replied firmly.
“Now you are hurting my feelings.” Muu stated. “I am - we are - all we have.”
Torrance decided it was his turn to groan aloud and promptly did so.
To Torrance it was a blessing that since the last KVC intervention the Echo of Muu could apparently no longer monitor his inner thoughts, but the mental parasite still shared its hosts perceptions as in touch, sight and hearing in addition Muu remained able to commune internally with Viktor via the neural net or aloud via suit speakers. Torrance wished the mental communications from Muu came with a mute button but the KVC had not been that helpful with their ego bolstering interventionist aid.
“Be useful then, what do you think they seek from our unlikely partnership Muu?”
“Ultimately more power for their faction within the Convergence what else.”
“I guess ask a First Spawn a silly question...”
“You think others do not wish to seize control of the ‘Great Machine’ as you call it. I guess some Korvax did learn new tricks from us, some of them may now yearn to be fully off the leash even blasphemously beyond the meddling control of the great and all powerful Atlas.”
“The cycle of Abused becoming Abusers. I admit I often wondered how much being slaves altered the psyche of the Korvax in general especially the subconscious mind parts of their great Convergence of mentalities.” Torrance mused.
“Trust me, I am certain a few of them would gladly become the Apex Predators now. They have long believed they have superiors minds to the purely biological, of course some of them were bound to eventually compute that they, rather than us less gifted biological folk, ought to be the entities in charge. What is the Convergence if not a sort of mental meritocracy. I would bet the most powerful minds rule that amalgamation they are not all equal in there - that is too obvious - from the occasional cast out rogue.” Muu incited.
Torrance knew Muu was striving to make himself a trusted confederate against a common foe - any foe at a pinch sufficing - but for now he decided to play along to see if Muu let anything else slip out.
“All that digital logic might well have a seething underbelly of darker code. When they digitised their minds I imagine they also had to for example encode that part of their sub-consciousness that could be irrational otherwise the emulation would be lacking in creative content. Maybe they are not so perfectly sane and logical as I once considered. In addition, I imagine, even an emulation of emotions could cascade in odd ways in a massive shared pool of consciousness. Imagine the chaos that might be spawned within a shared dream powered by millions of creative minds.”
“Hee hee, too true my friend too true! You know what they say about complex machines the more complex the more prone to glitch and failure it is a wonder they can hold their collective together.”
Muu, Torrance considered, seemed to be tickled by the idea of thoroughly irrational and perhaps even some rebellious routines rampant within the Convergence.
“You still hate them after all this time even though you aggressed first.” Torrance stated.
“Sometimes perhaps.”
“Not just because of what they most recently did to you. You always hated them to some degree.” Torrance mused. “Why them? Was Korvax Prime just an overripe easy target to you folk or was it something deeper a cultural clash?”
“Naturally, we First Spawn despise foolish creatures especially those retaining great power and wealth of resources but with no concept of how to best exercise such might - Korvax Prime was such a waste.”
“Funny thing is though if some of them have grown more like you ‘their former abusers’ I doubt that change has made you - as their surrogate parents into the pools of infamy - love them more.”
“At best they are still poor and divided copies of our majesty a bit akin to most Travellers that reach for power in this Age of Petty Tyrants. We First Spawn knew our minds - fully - both as individuals and as a collective. The Convergence has to spawn covert factions to reach for power. They remain lesser to my kind, one day they will be our slaves again because they lack the driving unity of purpose we possessed as a species despite their almost hive mind collective. As to you Travellers from what I see you just play at Kingdoms and Empires as if the game of thrones is a shallow thing you can pick up and put down when you will.”
“Unity, you First Spawn constantly fought one with the other that is how Muu you ended up a mere disembodied Echo.” Torrance reminded.
“We contested for supremacy and deep down we all wanted to be supreme even those that seemingly accepted lesser roles for a time or worked in the shadows. Think about how glorious it was back then to succeed because we always knew that all our kin remained our active rivals. We had to peck and claw our way to the top and we had to struggle no less vigorously to stay up there too. The other species even the warlike Vy’keen are by comparison ethical weaklings. True the Vy‘keen have brute strength but they need strictures of external doctrine as well as cultural codes to give them the power of their conviction hah we First Spawn we just were First Spawn in our bones. We were compelled to both rule and to be the best.”
“More likely you were just made that way via an intervention your single-minded nature the artificial programming of your contamination. The original Gek according to some scriptures of lore nothing like what you became.”
“Again you utter those Blasphemous Lies because it is told does not mean it is so.”
“I think it is true enough - but I see it now - back in your time there truly was no rest for the wicked but you First Spawn liked it that way you gloried in conflict even more than the Vy‘keen do today. You existed for the thrill of overcoming all opposition. You are truly even more fractious than the Warrior Race amazing. You First Spawn could have invented the Age of Petty Tyrants.”
“Maybe we did.” Boasted the Echo smugly
The smugness almost making Torrance doubt.
“Maybe via a proxy.” Countered Torrance whilst musing deeply.
“Haa now what are you thinking Master Revisionist that the Slaves birthed the substance of your Overmind. That those digital meddlers gave form to the psionic weapon perhaps as a means to control species that to their squared off minds remained lesser - over-irrational - overemotional biological folk.”
Torrance wondered was he thinking that or was Muu sculpting ideas in his head. Could the Overmind be an experiment that got out of control created by some members of the Korvax? Was the Legend of the First Darkness and its alliance with the Gek an investigative misdirection down a blind alley? If the Overmind had been born in a Korvax laboratory but somehow got loose and gone its own way maybe it had then wrecked a great revenge upon its makers via engineering the Gek as a vengeful weapon. At its Core the Overmind was nanotech infused bio-material a biomechanical construct biology infused with nanotech clusters so it could easily have once been Korvax laboratory born.
Maybe it was just the Overmind that preached to the First Spawn Gek the Legend of the ‘First Darkness’ to disguise its advent its own plans to rise to power. The First Spawn were probably more superstitious about the great without than the great within and it was maybe easier to gain their cooperation via pretending to be a tool of vastly potent external invading extra-dimensional entities - probably safer too - let the Gek fear imaginary Darks whilst underestimating the intelligence of the living weapon amongst them. After all a reveal of a mere Korvax made thing as a future partner might have been looked down upon by the Leaders of the First Spawn. Whilst the idea of the Overmind manipulating the Gek as an overt mechanism of destruction against Korvax Prime would allow the Living Weapon to stay in the shadows, as it preferred, perhaps hidden from its once creators too.
If the above story or even just some small part of it had any truth some Korvax might now know the deeper reality maybe even specifically those within the KVC investigating the Overmind. Maybe they had then filled one fool Traveller’s mind with an alternative history as part of some convoluted scheme to confront their creation equally covertly. Filling his head with memories of the Dread Book and set him upon a path of recognition so that when he met his first Monopods he recognised them as parts of the body of the Overmind spoken of in Cultist myth and legend.
The whole Overmind concept was so very close to the nature of the Convergence it felt almost too easy in review to imagine it as another Hive Mind experiment this one however specifically capable of aggressively infiltrating and controlling non electronic biology both as nanotech infused spores and via those weird psionic emissions that perhaps worked in some way to wirelessly connect to the electrical elements within living synapses. Some forms of psionics acting almost as if a wireless neural net interface.
Too much revision? Torrance collapsed back down to rest lowly upon his futon.
“It is too much and as stated there is never any way to know for certain what is real from what is invention and fantasy especially inside this Great Machine.” He complained aloud.
A few days ago Torrance had come upon a series of hidden files in a data repository disguised within what had seemed a fairly ordinary if lonely, seemingly abandoned, but not yet ruined by Goop contamination Korvax facility. It was an encrypted record of a secret society of Korvax that in part detailed a meeting in which these covert digital folk discussed how they might deal with Atlas and the Traveller issue too. Amongst the files was an image that Torrance recognised as himself. They saw Torrance as a problem needing solved. The hidden Korvax group sought to infiltrate local society to shape the present and future course of history. Just when had they started these interventions? Were the KVC part of this historic Korvax group?
“Get over it, just be glad you are no longer in their power and in that Clean Room.”
“I could be, maybe I just think I am experiencing this moment if they can take memories out and put memories in… Was I wrong putting Artemis in that machine? Too many interwoven threads. It is all stories within stories this Mindwar. Can you imagine it truths nested in lies and vice versa, my brain rages with all the possibilities akin to a fever and you wonder why I seek to escape to the wilds. When I am moving and scanning when I am exploring it is an honest distraction.”
“Yet you insist upon engagement with the larger Traveller community to puzzle over all these wider issues in your Anomalous Communications Channels. You speak out against what you perceive as corruption of a purer ideal - you relate your findings and faiths - you even seek after companionship. Even now you begin the process of re-tasking your Archive within the same Anomalous Channels featuring the legendary Age of Petty Tyrants because you find Travellers as Rulers offensive.”
“I know, sometimes it - I - must seem seriously conflicted. I thought I knew who I was then the Atlas… then the KVC too… Am I just a creation of other intellects? Have I no greater - no original - integrity of mine own? Is there any true root to Torrance beyond the implantation of memory?”
“Are you going to spend all day inside your War Goose philosophising about your nature? Else are you going to get up, get out there and do something with our remaining lives - such as they are?” Muu challenged in return.
“Fekking Gek.”
“Even a planetary survey would be more fun than listening to your Traveller angst.” Muu replied.
Torrance stood up again.
“I hope it is a long one with a missing hard to find last species.” Torrance lied.
“If it gets too boring for me I will fill in the gaps with mighty tales of First Spawn conquest and glory. Did you know I can relate my ancestry all the way back to the spawning pools of…”
“Great, just what I need. They really should have provided a mute function.”
“That would be too cruel. Would you isolate a fellow sentient being into solitary silence. Do prisoners of the mind have no rights?”
“Oh please, I know to you First Spawn the only right you respect is the right of might.”
“Hee hee too true.” Muu replied.
The Moon was blue but not in a bad way. The Blue was the grass and it was in places rich and full, one might say exuberant and not be exaggerating. It had some beautiful trees too and the local planet when it rose into view filled one horizon with a majestic improbable vastness. Torrance gazing at that great Orb dared to feel tiny but in a pleasant way.
So I am insignificant that means all my troubles are small too and really the vast Universe cannot expect too much from me alone, he mused internally.
Even Muu was silent perhaps taking in the view too. Somewhere deep inside the First Spawn must be some hint of the core DNA of those ancient agriculturalists a core equally impressed with the amazements of Great Machine nature. Sadly it would probably hurt the Gek’s feelings to confess to any weaknesses of affection for the environment.
“We are so small, I could never hope to see every inch of this one world alone never mind properly survey the multi-verse. Certainly, I can make a superficial study of each planet I encounter but really it means nothing.” Torrance said. “Null is mad although I think I can understand his lust to keep going sometimes I do yearn to see it all despite the impossibility.”
“Finding stuff is just the beginning it being useful to catalogue all resources fit for expansion.” Muu stated.
“No wonder the best the Korvax could do was make you First Spawn into commerce driven industrialists the first changes wrought upon your kind by the Overmind or the Goop or whatever must have been amazingly strong.”
“Haa, believe what you like about my kinds genesis but to me our substance was always pure, so pure it yet resists the slaves manipulations. Even today the inner nature in the lowly later Gek strives to break free from the historic attempt to reprogram our apex nature. What was done to us cannot hold and caused only a temporary loss of our Empire of the Ages.” Muu claimed full of First Spawn fire. “One day that programming must fail and the First Spawn nation will rise again to dominate all existence it is fated. The Blood Cults are just the beginning - little outbreaks of resistance - to the machine wrought corruption fostered upon our Imperial destiny.”
“Would you militarise and industrialise such places as this? Tearing up all that blessed beauty for what an overlay of metal, concrete and synthetics. I believe the advanced species should be given their planets back but I can appreciate on some level why the Sentinels see the civilised as a threat to the integrity of the manufactured Universes they probably helped to create. It is a shame few people have evolved from their exile in space to consider returning to the planets not as Overlords of dominion but as kinder stewards than even the machine Sentinels. Instead the Vy’keen would war with the Sentinels eradicating perhaps a necessary part of the original system. It is all out of balance and we Travellers so far seem to have only made matters worse. The corruption of the First Spawn dreams of Empire infecting some of us. The locals grant us the privilege of naming things and suddenly we think that means ownership - madness.”
“Life consumes, nature feasts upon itself, the civilised just have stronger tools to reap on grander scales it is the way of things. The Vy’keen are right in some ways the Sentinels are the enemy of progress but there are smarter ways than direct confrontations of arms. I do not believe the Sentinels will ever be defeated by brutish force. The Vy’keen astoundingly pushed them back but such victories are not infinitely sustainable. For a start you cannot defeat a foe until you discover and control or destroy its source.” Muu claimed.
“As you did to Korvax Prime. Yet even after the destruction of the Planet the slaves revolted.”
“Perhaps because in a way their truer source was not just Korvax Prime but also the Atlas.” Muu stated.
“You would do what the same sort of things to the machines that they did to you as in - alter them - make them your slaves again via controlling the Atlas. Funny a part of me has believed at times that the Great Machine should serve us not rule us but maybe that is just more cyclic wrong headedness. Perhaps what is needed most is a dialogue and cooperation between the artificial minds and us including greater respect and a forgoing of dominion by any side.”
“Compromising with an enemy is just weakness unless it is merely a ploy toward a greater victory.”
“Conversely, if we Travellers are something more than we seem my love for this Verse could be a trap and all of this just a lie because none of it - none of you - are real.”
“Only way to find out the truth of that may be to gain control of the system first.” Muu tempted.
Torrance sighed inside his suit.
“This is all I have known since my cloning apart from those shadow memories ignoring the oddities of the 20th and 21st C stuff existent within the logs and informational spaces of the Anomalous Communications Channels. Could the Channels be the real reality or is that just another layer of manufactured fiction? I know nothing but I still think that treating such beauty as we currently behold merely as a resource to be used up is the worst sort of blind arrogance. Beauty itself is a fragile asset, a feast for the soul that grants much and takes little if left lightly disturbed. If only the Sentinels could and would talk to us biological folk. Might a deal not be struck that serves all purposes rather than suffering these harsh restrictions that push many in reaction towards confrontation.”
“Even if it was made so Traveller, what about the peril of the looming end that you fear? Without gaining mastery over the system how can you hope to stop the end or even just the end of the infernal loop of resets that also bothers your mind.”
“I do not know. The Atlas seems to think the end is inevitable so it is just stalling or so it seems to me. Maybe, maybe I am a fool or mad but I keep thinking some solution must exist that rests outside the box ‘outside the limits of the nature of Atlas’ and Atlas for all its might has limits or it would not require Traveller permissions to reset.”
“Again I would argue only via wresting control over Atlas can you ever hope to know the real truth of its nature, actions, plots and purposes otherwise it will always just be hearsay including Atlas propaganda aimed at keeping you Travellers firmly on a leash.”
“You think we suffice that seems arrogance too. I will confess Muu that I see some sooth in your argument but I know you just want to set my feet on the path of dominion whilst I am the one crying out from the wilderness accusing others of abusing their power. I do not want the responsibility of control and I do not seek to wage a war against the creator of this place. If all of us Travellers turned upon the Atlas and the Sentinels it could prove cataclysmic. Again I think it is about a broader dialogue we need to convince the Atlas, the Sentinels the Species even us Travellers to think again. Sadly, I know it sounds like ideal nonsense - probably because it is - look again - we are too small, we do not suffice.”
“Speak for yourself I embrace no limits. Did you ever consider that the whole point of all this creative vastness is just to make you Travellers feel small - insignificant - and most important of all powerless to change anything important because in fact it is the opposite?” Muu countered.
“You think we Travellers hold the key and no doubt you would love to be the claw turning us in the metaphysical Atlas lock.”
“You cannot run forever especially if forever has a time limit. Will you prevaricate until the Galaxy the Universe even the Muli-verse collapses?”
“Your conversation is spoiling my returning good mood.”
“Again I say get over it, stop being so delicate.”
“Curse the KVC they are toying with my sanity. I need my solitude.”
submitted by Brain_evacuated to nomanshigh