Sunday, August 5, 2012

ICP4: S1.E01.1


.                                                                                                                                 .

In time immemorial, a monster of fire, a flaming thing tearing over the horizon, a monument of a beast galloping heedless high above the mountains, over the ocean, over the forests and deserts; its flame lit the sky orange and red, spreading out over the atmosphere of an Earth imperceptibly small and forever beyond to overpower the light of all God's celestial gems. A maw the size of a continent split wide to reveal teeth great as California redwoods, breath like an arid Phoenix. Black and crimson eyes perceived the expanse, trespassing upon each layer of existence, seeing through the concept of mankind and dedicating a judgmental glare to the Spiritus Mundi.

All of this presented an image, and the beast sifted mindfully through it, turning aside and looking behind each subtle strand of each person's life, unweaving the webs of their God-seeming composition. And in the midst of it, the beast found HER. And with unnatural, fervent speed did it pursue.


Then the image changed, and our Great Lady Babylon sat atop the corpse of that beast in an unfamiliar golden ocean, the size of which defied the curve of the world. She and HER alone atop it. The ocean glowed yellow and as the fire of the beast slowly died away, a sepia twilight fell over the scene. And the Lady rode the corpse as though a vessel to convey HER across a sea of bitter honey.


.                                                                                                            .



No matter how pressed for time a person is, it's hard to be in a hurry when approaching Famine death. The van sped along the empty highway, the concrete under its wheels screaming, and the hearts of its passengers beat at a panicked pace, knowing that even as they hurried along their enemy charged eagerly to the place of their meeting, wherever that might be. Yet the movements felt slow, and seconds dragged out, and when Foundation looked about the vehicle's confines it was with a calm, cognizant expression. He sat without fuss and moved without haste as he reached out to the magnetic chessboard he was busying himself about. The officers towards the front of the van were silent, solemn, and the youth sitting across from him in pale white garb and coat was relaxed in his seat, leaning far back sleepily. It was a deceptive body language that humans were born into, that they were given over to when they had chosen to ride into a perilous situation and were as prepared as anyone ever could be to do so. It was all just waiting and thought now, all just riding along. The only one in the van who could do anything at all at that point was the driver, and it was hard to tell how the man felt about it. Hands at ten and two, eyes forward, check the mirrors every few seconds, don't open your eyelids all the way for fear of noticing the evacuated highways and the militant vans winged out behind you; for fear of re-realizing the extremity of the situation before you could affect it.

Light shone into the van from the other vans' headlights around them, six or so, and Foundation almost-unconsciously placed his brimmed brown hat upon his head and adjusted it so that the shadows favored his eyes. He put one leather glove to his stubble-laden chin, rough aged features trying to look thoughtful as they considered the next move of one side or the other on his chessboard. He made a sort of guttural sound that was supposed to seem intelligent, but was full of grating as though he'd swallowed sand and choked on it. He had the white pieces arranged in a layered defense around the king, pawns at the front, knights and rooks behind, and the bishops and queen squared off for a last stand around the king, if it should come down to that. Defense is a poor strategy in the game but sometimes necessary, as in this case when the Black pieces were being so boldly aggressive. Foundation looked down on the black rook that had advanced heedlessly into the midst of his pawns, daring his more powerful, precious pieces to come out and play.

Foundation sighed at it.

The pieces jostled suddenly, snapping Foundation's attention up, as the manchild across from him kicked the underside of the table. All the board and the pieces quivered, but none fell or moved significantly. The magnets were more than capable of keeping them in place; it would take more effort than that to destroy the game he had so carefully orchestrated.

Sitting forward and gripping both hands in his lap, the youth blinked his gray eyes lazily, looking at Foundation's chessboard as if trying to use it as evidence and pass judgment on Foundation himself. When he finally did look up, he wore a smile in his eyes and a frown on his lips. “This is quite a pessimistic game you have running here, isn't it?”

Foundation inhaled deeply, looking bored at the youth, “You think so?”

Sitting up so as to position himself a bit more over the game, he began to point at pieces. “You're all in a panic over this one rook here, but there are two rooks, remember, and a queen that hasn't been touched.” As he indicated each piece individually, the sleeve of his white canvas coat swayed very close to his youthful wrist, “While he kills your pawns and you utilize everything you have just to oust one rook, he's moving his pawns simply out of the way of his bigger guns. You won't be ready for them when they come.”

“The pawns are hardly expendable,” Foundation countered, “But I have to trust them to do their jobs. As I keep this single rook busy, he gets his pawns out of the way instead of using them, and that leaves his important pieces vulnerable. Mine will be protected by each other, his will not.”

Nodding, “Assuming that's the strategy he's using.”

“You've been playing this game a lot longer than I have, Monument. Have you ever known him to do otherwise?”

The youth huffed and held his hands in front of his face momentarily, then leaned back again. “Heart rate, respiration and location of extended habitation all affect lifespan, potentially.”

Taking this as a surrender, Foundation allowed himself a half-smile. “Thought so.”

“Foundation,” it was a title, not a name, and it was spoken by the officer in the van's navigator's seat. “The Magicians are reporting Famine's presence outside the artisan district. They've engaged him.”

This was something Foundation gave little thought to. It was one of those things that he couldn't affect, that he didn't really want to give even a moment's consideration just yet. Still, he had to ask. “Have we contacted the advance unit?”

“We tried. There was no response.”

The youth sat forward, pulling four pawns off of Foundation's chessboard. “Oops,” he said, calmly, placing the pawns aside and moving the offending rook into the midst of his knights where it violated his second line of defense.

Foundation considered the board without expression. “Thank you, Monument, but it wasn't your turn.”

“I'm not playing,” the young one, Monument, leaned back in his seat again, crossing his arms over his chest. His face faded into the shadows, hiding his gray eyes and making his brown hair look black, hanging over his brow in harsh contrast to the gleaming white bodysuit, looking like polished ivory, that he wore under his knee-length white coat. His frown was still visible, a stubborn thing that disliked this night like a child disliked homework.

Clearing his throat, Foundation sat forward, pushing the brim of his hat up so that he could look into the shadow where he guessed he was meeting Monument's glare. “Which reminds me to ask you, elder. Are you going to do anything about all this?”

Monument huffed at him. “Heart rate, respiration and an integer implied by one's moral choices all affect lifespan, potentially.” He then made a humming noise that started out high and gained a lower pitch over several seconds, running into the first syllable of his next statement. “I'm not sure what there is to do. I'd just as soon stay out of Famine's way, so long as I have the convenience of the choice.”

Foundation allowed himself a bit of a smile, crossing his own arms over his chest and motioning to one of the bishops guarding his king as he spoke. “You know, some of the people in this car would say the Famine is your responsibility. Because of your history.”

“I am Famine's problem, but he is not mine.” His mouth was the only thing that moved as he spoke; not even his voice wavered. “The hotel bombings, the Elysian and what goes on under the Blue Raven Club. Those might be my problem, if you want to push it. But not Famine. I don't fight Famine. I stay out of his way.” And then after a moment's silence. “You should stay out of his way too.”

“Every sacrifice is calculated.”

“You don’t fight Famine. You don’t stand up to him. You don’t stare him down, you don’t get in his way. You run, or hell will run you over.”

“Everyone being thrown in the way of that Hell tonight is a good friend of mine, and of the project. I thought that included you.”

“Inclusively?” Monument seemed to have solidified in his position, both physically and in terms of the argument. “I'd say indicatively, of your moral choices. Heart rate, respiration and an integer implied by one's moral choices all affect lifespan, potentially. You don't fight Famine.”

Foundation began to buckle against the wall that Monument had made of himself. No, Foundation wasn't counting on Monument tonight. That could never be done. But he had hoped, though it was an odd thought, that there would be a friend's assistance hidden somewhere inside of him. “How many people do you think are going to die tonight?”

“If I'm running the math, and I just might be, I'd say fifteen already have. The rest depends on how you play the game.” Monument pursed his lips, and then quirked them to one side in thought. “Is it worth it?”

“Curare's the target, Monument. Curare might die tonight.”

Monument's voice took on a sort of laugh, “I don't care about Marduk. He's one of us. He can take care of himself.”

Foundation nodded. “Marduk can take care of other things too. But not Famine.”

“I don't care about Marduk.”

“He'll fight anyway, though. He has something to fight for. Unlike you.”

“I don't care about Marduk.”

“Probably die, too. But he has someone to die for. Unlike you.”

“I said I don't care about him!”

“Marduk isn't even what Famine's after.”

The manchild made no reply, freezing their dialog completely. It was a reaction, a still reaction, one that implied a realization on his part. It wasn't easy to surprise Monument, and when he was surprised by something, if only just a realization, it showed. In his stillness. Not even his lips moved, and he didn't look to be breathing.

It took a long time for Monument to speak again. “Heart rate, respiration and body temperature all affect lifespan, potentially.”

“That's right,” Foundation agreed, “You do not care.” He raised his voice then, speaking to the silent officers around him. “The Magicians are still holding Famine?”

A nondescript answer, “Yes.”

“Stop the van here. He'll want to run right through us on his way to Marduk's. We should be waiting.”

The vans parked end-to-end sideways on the road, forming a feeble wall across all east and west-bound lanes, wide gaps in between each one filled out with officers in riot gear, each one having turned in his police-issued firearm in temporary exchange for something a little more powerful and far less-well known. Foundation stood some twenty feet ahead of the line, looking back at the makeshift soldiers he was rarely forced to utilize, watching them make their preparations. Monument was sitting in the doorway to one of the vans, his legs drawn up beside him, leaning comfortably, unwilling to exit. The youth was holding one of the officers' weapons, inspecting it for him, likely making sure that the mass-produced models matched the prototype the manchild himself had designed, assembled and tested a month before.

Foundation sighed. No, Monument wouldn't be any help. That man was just along for the ride.

Watching his own breath dissipate into the cold air as he exhaled, he took a moment to separate his thoughts and perceptions from the violence taking place in other parts of the city and making fast approach to swallow him up. He perceived the chill touch on his skin and in his nostrils, the promise of snow in the air actually for once suppressing the smell of dust and oil that permeated most of the city. He looked about, the clean air crisp, making the city well-visible. The Highway he stood on was some forty feet off the ground, and from here he could see the most of the city. North, the University, the rural areas, City Hall, the small block of buildings amongst which hid a blank construct that housed the Project.

North also held the entertainment district, glowing like a marquee sun in the middle of this night. All casinos and clubs and whatever else he was missing out on by staying as far away as he possibly could. There was a sign rising high above the rest, mounted atop a dome that tried to block out any view of the sky for anyone on its property. It was a simplistic bird made of blue tube lights, and the words, “Blue Raven Club.”

Southeast was the airport and industry. Southwest was the museum, the artisan district, and Famine. He couldn't see Famine, but he could feel him in that direction, hewing things down. Foundation had expected to at least see the orange glow of fire where Famine was carving his route. Probably hidden amidst the buildings.

Welcome to Jeru, they said to newcomers. Welcome to Heaven. But that wasn't this place. Welcome to Jeru, they should say well enough. But welcome to Hell. Jeru, the city of the Project. Jeru, the dirty city.


She awoke to an aching pain that sweltered and rippled through her skull and neck; a fire flicking about the nerves in her spine; to the taste of steel in her mouth, blurred vision and slow thoughts. As she squinted and lifted her head off the cracked tile  and became slowly aware of still-warm blood pooled about the glassy crater her head had made in the floor when she fell, she became very cold, and then very warm, and a rush of goosebumps over her body left her feeling naked. Weakly she rose, laboriously, slowly, all the while muttering broken and confused words under her breath. She reached a sitting position and let her head hang between her legs, waited for her eyes to focus as she watched red drops trickle down the sticky strands of her long-hanging black hair. Breathing steadily, waiting out the waves of pain and panic, trying to will her mind to work, a thought finally formed in her mind.

What happened?

One heavy hand extended to - Unexpected file termination, unable to render further.

Running search for missing data. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Data not found. … Repeating search. … Search timeout … Search unsuccessful.

File S1.E01.2 does not exist.

Sending request to Fiction Machine:
DIRECTOY: |pRoj<Ec>T_</fo>uR|
FILE: S1.E01.2

Status: pending

… …

Status: request received
File name S1.E01.2 under construction
Formulae: plot-to-date – babylon – famine – marduk – foundation/firmament – elder

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