(Read the previous story in this two-part series here.)
Fallow-coloured brick steps, the creaking wooden planks of the balustered scaffold, the block – huge & out of place, like a shameful memory intruding on pleasant conversation – being carried over the space between all of these in a dozen laborious seconds. Half of my life, it seems – half of my world & more.
The man (or is it a woman?) wearing the hood stands neither too tall nor too straight: Brethren justice does not boast, it does not make a show of punishment. The witnesses, I know, are only there to represent the Senate’s support of the procedure – there are but very few, all of them old.
. . .
I was a cog in the machine, but saying so does not do justice to the Plethora. She does not think, it is true, & this is our weakness & our strength: our technoetic space does not so easily overflow into the world as those of our enemies. The Plethora needs her Mechanists’ prods, but always she exercises a certain pressure & so: I was a cog, turning under her weight, a fleshy cog carrying out the motions of a clockwork titaness.
Mechanists can’t easily explain to laypeople– nor even to Dancers & Gamers – what it is to be part mind, part software. We have binary intuitions, cravings for functions which have nothing to do with any known organ. We speak & dream gnosis; we surprise ourselves when, unplugged for repose, we think broken thoughts: part of ourselves does not translate outside of the silicon brain.
. . .
It is not that part which is ever at fault; mistakes are all flesh, betrayed by increasing heart rates & shallow breaths while, having been summoned to far-off places, our minds need don bodies of fluid steel & carbon mesh. This we must do always for sabotage, for murder; for war, for the survival of the Operator calling the process. We are cogs in the machine & the machine is a weapon; we obey.
Except sometimes we do not. There was Sylk, there was her prize, & there was the crowd – a crowd, I surmised, of breathing, talking, thinking beings like myself. I did not have the context: I could not know if her orders were justified. But could they ever be? Can it ever be worth it to rain ion-charged shrapnel onto a market square, on the unwitting Subjects standing between the Operator & the needed tech?
Therefore I thought – & there was my mistake. There were Servicemen beyond the square who had no such regard for life. Sylk is dead; I am considered her murderer, though I was a cog all the while.
A cog who is now being replaced. It is a woman in the black hood – I can see it now. Why does she look so much like her?
A sound -- nothing like what I expected.
Another part of me is missing; I feel I must be logging out.
(Read the previous story in this two-part series here.)
I am bloody dusk, when the sun sets over the Chicago Enclave, over its myriad layers of rubble, filth and glory. I am the long shadow of the collapsing Willis Tower, stretching to infinity after the South Branch has turned – liquid steel to rust, rust into black tar. I am silence, flying ahead of the evening wind, beyond the vestigial Mississippi and into the vicious quiet of the Wilderness.
They call me Sylk, and like sylk I am more resistant than iron. And indeed I have been tested, though this is not my first run, nor is it my latest. It is the tale of each one that matters.
I had just touched down East of the Flores Barony and I had dispatched Prowlers on the way. How many? I do not recall. I am no Gamer; I do not keep a tally. I am Dancer, whose truest partner is Death, whose only struggle is against that alluring embrace.
Yet you ask about the Prowlers. What is there to say? They are the faces of the Wild, many-fanged and eyeless. Under the shade of the thicket they roam, shapeless and shifting. They do not howl to call their fellows, for they share one mind: if a Prowler tastes the blood of Chicago Brethren, all of them feel it trickle down their maw – even as far as Sarajevo. They howl only for the fear it summons, but what shall I fear? I am bloody dusk, when the westering sun succumbs to Night; an eternal recurrence, not an instance.
So I dispatched them. How? How you pester me with questions!
How does one tame the forest and her shadows? With fire, from above. I was Phoenix once: it was my freedwoman’s name, before I heard the music and joined in the Dance. I have dreams of that lost Enclave my namesake, like memories of phosphorous rain. I evoke them while I waltz, whirling smoke-like into the midnight air. Fire is my favourite epiphyte.
The Flores have a dead zone no wider than Edgewater; it is easily crossed and poorly guarded. Yes, they have Servicemen, but I do not Dance with them unless I have to. Who is to say that they might not one day hear the music too? There is always an underworldly passage – a water main, a pipeline, a subway route – which they do not watch carefully enough. I sense their scattered Eyes before they can see me; it is not gnosis, merely intuition.
And so, I was into the slums some hours before dawn. I was to gift a Sleeper with words of medicine (why the Barons keep such knowledge from their Subjects is beyond understanding). I planted pamphlets as I toured our contact’s habitual hideouts; he would not like the attention this could bring him, but Freedom will not keep quiet. Besides, the pamphlets – as well you know – do not only speak of the cause: they teach the words whereby we meet in the Plethora, to give counsel and plan the Revolution.
My Sleeper hid in the sixth place I checked – the squalid little backroom of an auto repair shop. Slowly and meticulously we dealt with decorum, naming our many marks under ultra-violet light. Never rush through protocol! The Church of Peace has excellent simulacra, but imperfect knowledge of the names.
When we knew each other I delivered the words of medicine. Though somewhat relieved, my Sleeper remained sore afraid: it fell upon him to enact cures to destitute thousands, and to do so whilst escaping the notice of both Churches, and of the Servicemen. I would not see him again.
I was to bring home stolen security codes; the Sleeper was drilling me when she burst out of the closet. I would have incinerated her before I knew who she was but he threw himself in my line of fire. She was small and crying; he was simultaneously chiding and comforting her – awkward, tired, desperate. It was well outside of my mandate to ask: “Who is she?”
There was no good answer. She was one in a billion tragic lives, an orphan of the Baron’s biological warfare on their own Subjects. She was nothing and everyone; she would grow up to Serve or she would not grow up at all; to the Churches, to the Barons – and even to most Subjects – it would make no difference.
Not so to me. I made her Phoenix, and she will be Sylk. She is recurrence, not an instance. What shall she fear? We are forever.
“You'll sleep and you'll dream you'll only know what you mean
When the light appears, boy, when the light appears.”
- Allen Ginsberg, When the Light Appears.