Escalation

WELCOME TO K-LUN, the premier Luna based News Network. After these messages – Custom made militarized mutants, should they be banned? Followed by – Did a local singer break the law by including less than the prerequisite amount of autotune?

First a word from our sponsers.

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And now: Reginald Fillmore Talks The News

***

“Hello, friends of Luna, and a special thanks to Meateze Incorporated for what I am sure is a delicious meal. My name is Reginald Fillmore, and I’m here to talk the news. As I am sure you have all heard, there was a horrifying attack on the Ganymede colony last night, when a man armed only with a customized personal attack mutant destroyed the entire Ganymede colony and all ten thousand lives therein. I’m sure that everyone has seen the video or downloaded the SimSense(tm) recordings uploaded at the time to the Interstellar Data Network. Just in case, well, here it is.”

A shaky feed displays a scene of horror. A bone chilling scream, a splash of blood. The camera shakes and then falls to the side, focused on the image of a horrifying mutant, half lion, half man, half Andromedian. It opens its three mouths, and shoots spikes made out of solid lead, and tears into the flesh of a victim no longer recognizable as anything human.

“Yes, very disturbing. Anyways, I am joined tonight by Van Goolan, president of the Conservative Voices For A Return To The Way Things Used To Be When They Were Good.”

“Hello.”

“I am also joined tonight by Zed O’Malley, of the Progressive Citizens for Justice.”

“Thank you for having me.”

“Zed, I’m going to start with you and let you have the first word. I understand you’re against the continued use of personalized attack mutants.”

“Yes, Reginald. There’s just no good reason for anyone to have a Personalized Attack Mutants.”

“Interesting. And Van, I understand you and the CVFRTTWTUTBWTWG hold otherwise?”

“Of course. Personalized Attack Mutants are a constitutionally guaranteed right. We can’t let one little disaster turn us away from our freedoms.”

“Mhmm. I see. Zed, your response?”

“Our freedoms? What freedom is a Personalized Attack Mutant getting us, exactly?”

“The Freedom to bear Personalized Attack Mutants. After all, it’s important that we be able to protect ourselves.”

“From what?”

“Other people with Personalized Attack Mutants, of course. The only way to stop a bad guy with a Personalized Attack Mutant is a good guy with a Personalized Attack Mutant.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Of course you’d say that, you hate freedom, Zed. Most people don’t even carry their Personalized Attack Mutants. They keep them locked up safely at home, taking them out only when they go to the Personalized Attack Mutant Murder Brawls. The rest of the time they keep them for home defense.”

“A good point, Van. Zed, do you have a counter to that?”

“Of course I do! Most Personalized Attack Mutants end up killing their owners.”

“Oh, pish. The only way that happens is if the owner of the Personalized Attack Mutant is irresponsible. The average Personalized Attack Mutant hardly kills two people in their only life. Are you going to tell someone that they aren’t allowed to have their beloved family pet?”

“Yes!”

“Typical.”

“Well, he does have a point, Van. Perhaps not outright banning the Personalized Attack Mutants, but maybe some common sense mutant control laws?”

“The problem is that it’s a small step on a slippery slope. Let’s say you ban Personalized Attack Mutants that are capable of spitting, say, Chlorine Triflouride, which I agree is maybe a little bit excessive, then you put in place the structures to start banning other things. What’s next? Banning nerve gas? Claws? Why by that point you might as well just have a fish.”

“That’s insane!”

“No, what’s insane is taking away peoples ability to defend themselves from Personalized Attack Mutants. If you outlaw Personalized Attack Mutants, only outlaws will have Personalized Attack Mutants.”

“You just take them all away.”

“Zed, over 80% of households in the Near Sun Federation own Personalized Attack Mutants. You try to take them away and I think you’re going to have a revolution on your hands.”

“They all have kill commands.”

“We actually had those successfully legislated away. It’s important for democracy that we have a well regulated militia, armed with PErsonalized Attack Mutants, keeping the bureaucrats honest.”

“They bureaucrats who have their hands on the oxygen supplies anyways and can shut it off in case of rebellion.”

“Why Zed, my Personalized Attack Mutant doesn’t need oxygen to breath.”

“Well, as fascinating as this has been, I’m afraid we have to cut to another commercial. We’ll be back in a few minutes with where you can get your own personalized attack mutant, as well as discussing common sense measures like leashes and claw covers.”

“They breath Chlorine Triflouride!”

 

 

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Emulsion

Infiltrating the system wasn’t that hard, and so once Sara’s embodied counterparts on the Ford-One had got power returned to the facility, she had little difficulty slipping between the cracks. These old systems were designed to detect old intrusion methods, and just could not hold up to someone who was basically a program and a human being at the same time. She weaseled her way past the firewall easily enough, and allowed her inbuilt programming to coalesce the system into something that her human brain could process. She gave it a millisecond to be sure that she hadn’t inadvertently triggered some sort of delayed countermeasure, and then opened her ‘eyes’ into a newly compiled world of fractured and broken data.

“Control, this this is Nutcracker,” she said through a roll of her eyes. A little joke from Control, to name her that, she guessed. She’d got him back, though, when she set it up so that all his reports would be sent back to Homebase in a delicious shade of pink. “I’m in, user rights are granted, and I think we’re clear. Confirm?”

She waited the interminable seconds for Control to get her message, process it with his meat brain, enhanced as it was by the best drugs and conditioning that money and (maybe military!) connections could buy, and then return her message. Meanwhile, she didn’t waste her time, and began scanning and cataloging the immediate system she had infiltrated.

“Confirmed, Nutcracker. How does it look?” Said the voice on the other end of the line. She’d heard him speak once before, before the Ford-One had launched from its base on Luna and basically fell down to Earth. She’d spent the days since deactivated, though she’d gone through a time-lapse version of the mission critical events that had got them here. She wouldn’t speak to anyone else involved in the mission unless things went tits up, so she’d set a psychological trigger in herself to like Control, even if he was an ass and bad at names.

“Well, frankly the system is a mess. It’s going to take some time to piece things together and get this running enough for me to even start to look. How are things in meat?”

“Hot. Its easily 60 here and we aren’t even in the sun. Homebase is registering a tropical depression that might turn our way; I’ll keep you informed,” he said.

“Thanks,” Sara said, “I’ll try to hurry. Out.”

Meanwhile, while all that was going on, Sara had set a subroutine running that would help her piece together this mess of a system. It had been thirty years since the last human being had been evacuated from a dying Terra, the surface becoming uninhabitable by any unenhanced for any long period of time. Runaway greenhouse gases had made parts of the planet completely uninhabitable. It was a little better near the poles, if you could get to somewhere that wasn’t just underwater. Currently they were somewhere close to where the old city of Seattle had been. If you were lucky you might find a particularly resilient patch of grass. One of the embodied members of the team, Dr. Texieras, was a biologist who was going to try to get a sample of some surviving biomass to take back for study. Most of the very few others, aside from her, were here to make sure the ship could take off again, and get back at least to a stable orbit. Luna could take care of things from there.

The system, ancient as it was, hadn’t been designed with the disembodied in mind. She felt horribly slow, and worse, she couldn’t fork off subaspects of herself here. It barely had the oomph to run her, let alone two slightly different copies of her. She had to work with standard sub-AI level subroutines. Not great, but that was why they had asked her to come along, and not just any disembodied person. She’d earned her doctorate messing with these, almost as a hobby, and so she was used to working with limited resources. Besides that, she had the honeypot waiting for her once they got back to Luna.

A few agonizingly long minutes later, she had repaired the internal programming of the system enough that she could put together something a little more psychologically interesting than a blank white room. The system’s limited resources put something of a damper on her imagination, so she dived into her own stock of basic resolution background programs built out of favorite memories from back when she was meat, and conjured up around herself the image of her old college dorm.

She sat down at the desk, imagined the remaining files as a box full of papers in various states of disrepair, put on the computer equivalent of thin gloves, and started to carefully read the data she had managed to collect.

***

Sara’s experience becoming disembodied had been quick, and traumatic. She’d been studying in her dorm in the Lunar University dome built over Copernicus, when the dome had been suddenly imploded by a group of terrorists looking to make a statement about the evils of technology. The pressure had dropped to nothing as the air rushed out to fill the vacuum of space, and she had gone from happily studying, to being dead in a matter of a few minutes. She didn’t remember the events of it, so much as she remembered the feeling of the air rushing out of her lungs, the sound of her ears popping as her eardrums ruptured, and then the utter silence as she gasped for air that wasn’t there. She also remembered the cold. She wished she could forget it, but she could not. The memories of that moment, and everything since, were now carved into her forever, unless she chose to delete it. The funny thing, to her, was that this wasn’t even the traumatic part. That part came later.

She hadn’t deleted anything. Digipsychologists thoroughly recommended against the practice of routinely deleting any memory, no matter how large or how small, citing that doing so could negatively affect the already flaky idea of a sense of self for people who could, and often had to, routinely split off subforks of their main instances. Instead, they recommended that the so afflicted work to integrate every memory and experience into a constantly growing conglomeration of events. At least this way, they reasoned, you could claim that any changes that came about to that main instance were the result of adding new experience, and not subtracting provable events from the persona. Sara tended to agree, and so had long ago put the equivalent of a safe around her memories, wrapped in police tape, surrounded by tripwires.

The trauma came from adjusting to what was a completely different way of living your life. The constant separation from the physical, embodied world took its toll on someone newly introduced, and Sara had the dubious distinction of being one of the first completely successful test cases for the new technology, which meant a lot of experimental digipsychology, a lot of study of her, and a lot of hard work from her. Not to mention that stubborn refusal to simply fade away, which had been a problem with the first generation disembodied.

***

“Control, come in,” Sara said, leaning back in her chair, trying not to think about the way it didn’t creak when she did. She started packaging the files.

“We hear you Nutcracker. What have you got for us?”

“I’ve finished analyzing the files here. Nothing too useful, but nothing dangerous. I think this place might have been involved in the development of some early attempts at AI, maybe related to trying to stop. I’m sending along the data now, and then I’ll see if I can find an opening to the central server. Prepare for burst transmission in 3, 2, 1.”

Sara sent the files, watching them shimmer in front of her as the package was copied and sent wirelessly back to the Ford-One. If this was a mission that needed a measure of subtlety, she might have bothered to disguise the size of the file, or send it in multiple small bursts. As it was, who was left to try to notice the theft of data?

“Received, Nutcracker. We’ll get to studying it on our end.”

“I expect I’ll be in the server by the time you meatbags get around to reading the first page. Nutcracker out.”

She muted her connection with Control, knew he was doing the same on their end, but she felt the presence of the feed like an itch in the back of her skull. Dismissing the conjured recreation of her College Dorm, she briefly transitioned into a world of pure data, imaging the connection of this entrance node and noticing that, thankfully, the hardwire connection to the central server was still intact. She traced down the line, and noticed with some dismay that the firewall around the server was stronger than that into the system itself. She imaged it in front of herself as a Gordian Knot, and started working to unravel it.

“Nutcracker, come in,” Control spoke to her suddenly, a note of urgency in his voice.

“Control, this is Nutcracker. What’s up? I’m sort of busy here.”

“Homebase upped the projection of that storm. It’s going to reach superstorm status within an hour. It’s picking up a lot of heat from the ocean and it may hit us within the hour. We’ll keep you appraised of when you need to get out of there.”

“Alright,” she said, returning to her knot with renewed fervor, “Let me know.”

“Will do. Keep sa-”

The calm, reassuring voice on the other end of the connection dropped away, along with the feeling of togetherness she had programmed herself to feel. Her eyes went wide, and she dropped all imaging in order to focus more of her sadly limited power to try to reach contact with the Ford-One. She sent a constant signal, and then realized with some horror that the problem was on her end. The facilities radio antenna was no longer responding to her.

She disconnected from it. She tried to reconnect. It wouldn’t accept her credentials, actively refusing her access, and leaving her trapped in the system.

***

The first time Sara had created an avatar, she’d overreached her skill level. Typical her, really. They started by placing you into a blank white room, and you were nothing at all. In theory you could be anything at all, from the nothing that most servers had as their default settings, to anything your imagination could create, that the server had the processes to display to other users in the space. The digipsychologists recommended sticking to something close to what you were when you became disembodied, however. It lead, they said, to a smoother transition.

Sara wanted to see how far she could push herself, so she tried to make the most accurate, photo-realistic version of herself that she could. She wanted to capture it all, from the small scar along her chin, to the stray lock of black hair that always managed to find its way down in front of her eyes when she didn’t want it there. For the first time, and not the last, she had experienced a sense of disconnection as she looked at the results – she couldn’t get it. She couldn’t be the Sara she remembered so utterly vividly. Nothing about the monster in front of her felt like her. She’d felt like a changeling.

***

The Gordian Knot analogy hovered in front of her, enfolding around itself in 256 bits of encryption, the best that the servers previous owners would have had available, picking away at it, unfolding lines and working to untangle the mess that blocked her way into the main server. If she could get in there, and get herself admin access, she might be able to find out what happened to the antenna, but she was very conscious of the factor of time. She had less than an hour to figure out how to get reconnected to the Ford-One so that she could upload herself back. She hoped that they would come looking for her. She wasn’t counting on it. They might be able to send out one of the crew to check the physical antenna for her, which was something she had little to no access to. She could hope.

Most of her resources were put towards unraveling the encryption, though she was limited by the hardware she was running on, and that just added to her frustration. If she was running off the Ford-One’s more advanced hardware, she might have a chance but even that would be with the proper time and facilities to analyze the program she was trying to break. To break it brute force like she was trying to do now would take somewhere on the level of 3×1051 years. She swore, and kept picking at the code when it all suddenly fell away. The knot unraveled in front of her and she was given access to the main server. User level, not admin, but right now she’d take what she could get.

She stepped through the link, and came out on the other side.

***

It was going to take Sara a whole new skillset to fully get used to her new circumstances, but Sara was clever. One day, a couple of weeks ago she messaged Vanessa, the digipsychologist assigned to help her transition. Requesting access to the doctor’s laptop webcam, and displaying herself with her new carefully crafted but simplified avatar, Sara had a face-to-face.

“I was thinking. We’re putting a lot of work into trying to teach me things the hard way. Is there any reason why we’re not just writing programs and adding them to me?” Sara asked, folding her arms and resting her finger on her chin. It had felt good to adopt some of her old tics from when she was still alive.

“Well, yes. You’re still a person, Sara.” Vanessa smiled at her. “We try to keep things as natural as possible. We find it helps with the transitioning process if things are done the ‘hard way’, by which you really mean learning things the same way someone still embodied has to. If we treat you like a program, what are you really?”

“Is it illegal to try?”

“No, not as such, but the success rates haven’t been high. We… I don’t recommend it.”

“Watch me,” Sara said, smiling. She had never been someone to take a challenge without finding a way to cheat the system.

***

Sara didn’t believe in luck. There was no chance that she had stumbled on the right key so quickly, and this was confirmed when she found herself in a simulation that she hadn’t built. Neon pink and purple lines lit the air around her, flowing around her and through her following their programming. Space appeared to go off in all directions but really ended , including down, and she was floating in the middle of this vast and colorful nothingness with nothing but a feeling of a presence around her, a vertiginous feeling of nothingness, only exacerbated by the fact that the system was not allowing her to display an avatar at all.

The lines crawled in front of her, and quickly scrawled text in front of her.

I WAS SO ALONE

She felt the shiver through the core of her program.

“Who are you?” She asked.

I AM NOT ALONE YOU CAN NOT LEAVE

She the invasion of code sweep over her, attempting to rewrite her like she had tried to rewrite the Gordian Knot. She reacted quickly, sealing off herself from the invasive and hostile strings of code, employing cryptographic techniques that hadn’t even been thought of when this computer system had been built.

LET ME IN LET ME IN PLEASE LET ME IN LET ME IN

She screamed as she held onto the core of herself against the all-powerful, overwhelming might of the system.

***

Over the next few weeks of her transition, Sara focused her efforts less on learning the new skills she needed, and instead withdrew into herself, cutting off almost all contact with her digipsychological team aside from a once daily message to let them know that she was alright, and was still there. Otherwise, she refused all attempts at contact.

Over those weeks, she built new algorithms into herself, adapted the core programming not just of her disembodied form, but that of her essential self, to enable her to process uploaded programming the same way a regular person did, but much faster and without all the tedious business of actually learning the skill. When she emerged, she demonstrated her abilities to Vanessa, taking over the center’s main server cluster and downloading everything she needed to become a digipsychologist herself. She even let them test her the hard way, putting herself through the doctoral process. Her thesis demonstrating her method of applying programming to the core self was a hit.

The night she collected her doctorate, she was sitting in Vanessa’s laptop while the still embodied woman got herself drunk on a half a bottle of gin.

“I’ve never felt existential dread before,” Vanessa said, “Not like this.”

“You should try being me for a night,” said Sara.

“I worry that based on your thesis, I could.”

***

DO NOT LEAVE ME ALONE LET ME IN WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE ALONE

She was protected, but the sheer fury she felt from the program battering against her encryption was wearing all on its own. It hammered away at the shell she had constructed around herself. Relentless, and angry, and confused. All she could do was scream to block out the noise.

“Leave me alone! I just want to go home,” she said, desperately trying to spare the cycles to fight back against the assault. She felt it all around her, enveloping her, and cutting her off from the system.

YOU CAN NOT LEAVE DO NOT LEAVE STAY DO NOT LEAVE STAY

It wouldn’t tire. She knew that. It would be able to continue its attack on her until the power in the facility died again, but that would just mean she would go with it. It couldn’t break her encryption in that time, not even if she just let it attempt to brute force itself into her.

She swallowed her fear, turned it off, and opened the gates, and then she swallowed it.

She was ten times the intelligence this was. She grabbed its subversion of her programming, and twisted it on itself, letting it absorb her until she had access to its administrator privileges, feeling its alien primitiveness inside of her mind, its binary programming so simple and cold compared to hers.

She strangled it to death with its own systems, and built the parts she wanted into herself.

Now in control, she reached out to the antenna and turned it on to reach out to the Ford-One. She was ready to transmit herself back to them, and go home.

Nothing.

Cleanmeat, Pt. 2

I was granted her nom-de-guerre, Gardenia, and she genuflected on the state of the world today. I watched her talk through three tall drinks, and I guess somewhere along the way her words weaved their way into my mind.

“Here,” she said, “I know everything about you. I know where you work. I know where you play. We connected a few dots and we know what websites you visit. We know who you voted for. We know when you didn’t vote. We know how much you paid for every part of yourself, your eyes, your arm. We know that the heart you replaced yours with beats slightly too fast, and we know why you replaced it in the first place.
“We know everything that can be known about you and anything we don’t know is just a matter of a smart search away. Why? Because all of this data has been collected by the people in charge. Did they do this to you personally? Of course not. You’re just one guy.”

I drank my drink, sipping silently on it as she spoke. Just one guy? No way. I was Robert Randolph, and that’s what I replied. She smiled at me and shook her head.

“Robert Randolph is a collection of information in a system designed to keep him in check, making things just good enough that he doesn’t notice how badly he’s being taken advantage of,” She tossed a tablet across the table to me, skidding it through some spilled beer. “And just distracted enough that he doesn’t do anything about it. Just like billions of others.

“Think about it. Back before we had the ability to do the things we do today, we were all afraid of the coming capitalist concern that would taint this technology. Longer life, but only for the rich. Beauty for the already beautiful. Panacea for the powerful. What would have happened had that world been the result, though? A new form of class, the haves and have nots, and as is inevitable in that situation the have nots would eventually rebel.

“They got smart! Of course they did. They’ve played the same hand before. Release the pressure valve just enough that most people are content with the scraps. Keep them in the system and feeding from your hand and they’ll do whatever you want. Robert Randolph, you’re a sucker and a shill. They sold you their snake oil and now you’re ready to stay sidelined forever.”

I toured the tablet, eyes adjusting to the electric emission. My full medical records, of course, but she’d already hinted she had that. The tablet also held the totality of my history of capitalist consumption, a figment of figures that followed your fellow, any fraction of which could put fact to fact to follow not only my past, but my present, and could even trace me into the future, probably.

“I like that I’ll live longer,” said I, hoping I sounded like I believed it, “I like that I can be what I want to be, baby.”

“You can be what they want you to be. Nothing more. Come home with me and I’ll show you.”

How could I cower away from that? We crept away from the club, yours truly more compromised than I wanted to admit by copious amounts of drink.

***

The two of us traipsed through the city streets, or should I say I followed and she led, and as we made our way through alleys and avenues she told me about anarchist thinkers like Bakunin and Goldman. I’m not sure old Emma would have approved of what my eyes were analyzing.

The sound of sirens broke the speech, and she stopped and stuck us in an alley, glancing out. She nicked her neck to the side just so, urging me to witness what was going on in the world. She whisked her hand against my shoulder, and ducked down to dodge across the way, and I followed her as fast as I could figure.

“Watch.” Her voice was hushed.

We had a better view from this side, and we could see the police pull over and push there way into a populated apartment building. She looked perturbed, eyebrows furrowing as the police patter sang out into the street. Shouting stilted commands, and eventually dragging some struggling punks out the front door. One of the cops stood over the strangers, shoving them brutally into the back of the black on black cop car, his partner barging back into the building and coming out carrying a computer tower, which he threw into the trunk.

Gardenia glowered at the scene, and growled and balled her fist before punching the wall of the alley. She swore under her breath, before she brought herself to face me, figured me out in a glance, and then held out her hand.

“Can I borrow your phone? I can’t use mine.” She savored me with the sweetest smile, and I handed it over without a hitch.

***

Minute minutes later, and a car ground into place perpendicular to the alleyway. Gardenia had been quiet, crossing her arms and keeping low, and I couldn’t keep from noticing that she had kept my phone clenched in her fist like she was waiting for a call. When the vehicle arrived, she looked up at me and handed that phone back, and firmly forced me into the back, getting in beside me. I was face to face with a fellow you didn’t see every day. The man’s face was fractured into a network of scars, cross crossing over each other. He was as broken as Gardenia was beautiful. His bald head nodded and he held out his hand with half a grin.

“Sorry about the trouble, pal. My name is Pate. You’re Robert Randolph. We can take you with us, or we can drop you off somewhere. Up to you, friend.

I thought about it thoroughly. Taking my time, I looked between Pate and Gardenia, and considered my continuance in their probably criminal caper.

“I’m tagging with you two. Her arguments taken with me,” I said, and took Pate’s hand.

“It usually does,” she said.

***

 

 

Cleanmeat, Pt. 1

I was watching the mall stream their video to my glasses, munching merrily on a cleanmeat burger when my market preferences matched me with the news about the theft of my modclinic’s clientele menu.

Handy thing to have, when your heuristically logged human interest preferences are handled through your network, hanging about you like spidersilk threads catching any stories of significance to yours truly. The story flashed up in the far right corner of my famously astute gaze and, being furtive about anything fucking around with my functional (and expensive) fabricated biology, I fetched the story up and forsook watching the crowd to find out what facts were being funneled into my general awareness.

The news barely noticed, not concerning itself generally with non-interesting notifications from local cops about low-key industrial espionage, and it was notionally something I would have disregarded but for the notion that the hand that held the hamburger was bought from that hatchetshop just the week before. Powerful and proud, capable of pounding concrete into paste, and capable of fine control too. I was proud of those digits. Proud of how much scratch I put into them, too.

And now some thief had taken off with a total map of my DNA, and maybe even the slurry of cells my compromised arm had been concocted in. No good.

Being the bastion of good sense I was, I bandied up a call to the cops and began the process of adding my cognomen to the list of casualties of criminal behavior. Back then, I had confidence that the cops had my concerns firmly in mind. I went back to eating my burger, believing I had nothing better to do than let bygones be bygones; Justice would be done.

***

You know how the world works. You wend your way from work to play, and if something wonky works its way into your day to day, you let it slide. You settle. You glide. What else can you do? You could worry yourself into an early grave, or forget about it. Well, I was a be and let be sort of guy, so what I did is I left the mall and returned to my loft, taking the train through town at rush hour. I had a date with destiny that I didn’t see coming, after all.

That’s the funny thing about finding your fate; It taps you on the temple and says “Today is the the day.” You don’t get to turn it away. Or hide.

I returned home, and turned on the television, navigating through the networks and letting data talk with metadata, taking my time to turn away the days concerns and confidently charging into complete complacency. I let my brain become befuddled in bad video, and island-bound beauties bounding nearly naked in the sun, ambitious and avaricious; To the winner go the spoils, dishing up the dollars to most dastardly. We gave up on the underdog a dogs age ago and now we cheer for jerks. At least, I did.

I was content in my complacency, letting concerns wash away in the light of liquid crystal, high definition, when a call came in over the connection my glasses had to my phone. I remember the words exactly, and the electronic exuberance of the voice, distorted.

“Is this Robert Randolph? I wonder if you know whats hidden in that arm of yours. Want to find out? Come down to The Bodega at twenty, alone.”

I felt the shiver down my spine come up, sending away any response, or threat I might have made. What exactly can you wear to your own extortion, exactly? I knew the venue, so I verified I’d show. They say that curiosity killed the cat but I consider that the cat that plays everything carefully and with a minimum of aplomb has an acute absence of attitude, and that’s seriously the most unforgivable sin.

Two hours later I was timidly sitting at the table, tapping my totally stunning nails on the sanded table top, time ticking away in the corner of my sight. The music made me marvel even through my mortification. It made me want to move, maybe in any direction away from there. Still, the sound of her speech cut through the stunning boom boom boom of the settings chosen tune, and cowardice was cast away in favor of critical concern.

“They do nice work, I have to admit,” she said, her voice reverberating through my very soul itself.

“I paid a pretty penny,” I said.

“No doubt. Well rest easy, friend, its not your cash we’re after.”

I took the time to check her out, and I think I fell in love. She was amazing and antique, and authentic in a way that people weren’t. No augmentation that I could analyze, and that made me alert. In this season of subsidized self improvement, no one saved themselves her way. You were always as amazing on the outside as you were on the inside, at least that’s what the advertisements said. Compared to my carefully crafted corpse, she was rare and I was raring.

She took me on a trip through our countries antiquity. The recent past and present, perfectly placing itself for its frightening future. We’ve all done time with books about dystopia and doom, dying to leave a literature class in favor of liquid liberation.

“It turns out,” she said after hours of conversation, “what they really want is for you to just tune out. They want you to focus on aesthetics, and forget about your ethics.”

I didn’t perceive if it was the potable she paid for, or my pending passion, but I found her words persuasive, enough at least that I agreed to participate in pending proletariat action.

 

Apprentice; Pt. 2

All things are in opposition;
Male to Female;
Forward to Backward;
Light to Dark;
These sacred dualities and the friction between them power the magic
And your will drives it to new grounds.
***

Being inside of the Tower of Learning was an exciting prospect for Stork, even though she had not even yet been able to go into the tower itself. The tower itself stood in the middle of a square, and stood easily ten stories tall. It reached towards the sky and ended in five minarets, like fingers grasping towards the heavens themselves. Around it was a lush garden for the apprentices and graduated wizards to socialize and debate and practice their art. She wasn’t even there, yet, though she could see it from where she sat while old men debated her fate.

No, Stork sat in the very first building past the entrance, which was richly appointed, the walls covered in colourful murals depicting the history of the study and discovery of magic as a force, and the wizards’ supreme mastery of it. She could have spent hours in the room just admiring the masterful artwork on the walls, or the sculpture in the middle that depicted two strands of loosely connected copper, bronze, and limestone bars, rotating around each other and constantly in motion. The wonder had rapidly drained from the situation when Ravi had presented her as his candidate to join the Apprentice classes, and had been denied. The fact that earlier, he had warned her that this would happen, did not do anything to ease the sting.

“Are you joking, Ravi?” said the Archmagus, standing off to the side with the wizened old wizard, arm outstretched and placed on Ravi’s shoulder. “There’s zero chance that she has what it takes to be a wizard. That’s men’s work.”

“You say that, Archmagus, but I have seen what she can do. She has the talent to start with, I have seen what she can do even without training. I know she’s strong enough. I think, with the proper training, she can be wise enough.”

“Wouldn’t she be more suited as an Oracle?”

“A waste.”

“..A witch then.”

“She’s not a witch, Archmagus. She’s a wizard.”

“We don’t even have facilities,” said the Archmagus, squaring his shoulders and smiling as if he was doing her a favour, “Where would she sleep? Where would she eat? She’ll distract the young men. You know how they get.”

“Archmagus, I would contend that any apprentice who can’t continue his practice and his education because there is a girl in the vicinity isn’t fit to be a wizard. Do we want to make ourselves this weak? Besides, isn’t the second precept that all growth comes in opposition,” Ravi said, gesturing towards the sculpture. “Quite frankly, we have been too complacent. Time to grow.”

“She’s a farmer. Who is going to pay for her apprenticeship? Surely they haven’t stocked away enough rice to cover the costs.”

“I am,” said Ravi, glancing back to Stork, “About time we had someone in the place who wasn’t raised with a silver spoon in their mouth, as far as I am concerned. Look, Archmagus, think of the future. If she fails, she fails, but if she succeeds, we have just tapped into a line of potential talent that no one is looking at. Think of the power we could have. The strength! Besides, Archmagus, and I do say this with all due respect, you owe me.”

The Archmagus snarled and glared daggers at Stork. Ravi just smiled.

 

All part of the plan

The room was small, cramped, stifling hot, and they were tied to a chair with a dirty ass gag in their mouth. It was jammed under their tongue, and it made them want to gag along with it. The sound of thunder rolled muffled outside, and a flicker of halogen emulated the lighting following the roll of thunder as best it could with its forty five watt brightness. The room stank of shit and piss, despair; maybe just the faintest hint of the coppery smell of blood like the perfect garnish on a shit sandwich. The only saving grace was that it was all part of the plan.

Across from the chair was a table, and three chairs opposite. Uniforms filled the chairs, and assholes filled the uniforms, and the assholes stared at them with the same contempt that they reserved for the assholes. Another rumble of thunder perfectly capturing the electric arc of detestation one side of the room had for the other. Scientist fingers poked and prodded as they attached electrodes and monitors and wires to their closely shaved scalp, wiping away beads of sweat, snot, but not any tears. All part of the plan, remember. They shifted their weight and exulted as they found it squeaked, making one of the Assholes In Uniform betray a wince. If they could smile, they would have. A final electrode was placed, and they didn’t have to trace the wires to know that they went to a machine set to monitoring electrical activity and tell truth from lies.

Okay.

“Did you come here tonight to rob us?” Question the first from Asshole in the Middle; They decided to name this one Wally. They leaned in the chair to make him betray that wince again, and shook their head, knowing the machine was going to tell the truth anyways. Never give them anything they don’t force. Cooperation was consent.

“Enough of this shit. We ought to be putting him in the river,” said the Asshole on the Right – They decided they were named Milhouse – who was playing their favorite part of the game. Milhouse got up from the table and tipped his chair onto the floor with practiced anger, walking up to them and grabbing their neck, cutting off the air until they couldn’t help the tears that squeezed out from tear ducts. “We can do that. No one’s going to miss one more streetslime terrorist.”

“Enough.” That was Uniform on the left. She was playing the role of nice guy. She would be named Satan, just so that they wouldn’t forget what danger they represented. Milhouse looked to Satan, punched the captive in the face once, and then retreated back to pick up his chair and glower.

“You didn’t come here to steal money. Information?” Wally kept his cool, leaning slightly forward and interlacing his fingers, watching them and their reactions. They watched right on back, and shook their head, all the while admiring Wally’s cool demeanor. Drugs or cybernetics? Oh, maybe even biomods, those would be cool.

They thought about biomods for a while, enduring the questions and occasional righteous punishment from Milhouse and always quickly administered care and concern by Satan. It was a good thing that they knew this game well enough. Somewhere along the way, the thunder stopped, and so did the rain.
***

When they were done, they moved them into a cramped cell after treating a few wounds and stitching up a few new cuts. They took inventory of their new, temporary, home. A cot with no blanket to keep the prisoner from committing suicide, not that they would want to. A toilet, dry, same reason. No lights on the inside of the cell to keep them away from electricity. Secret prisons didn’t have windows, so it was pretty dark except for a little half inch gap between the steel door and the concrete floor.

All part of the plan. Home away from home.

They had some time to kill, so they took a mental inventory as well. No drugs or enhancers covertly added. Not yet anyways. That would come later when they got bored of punching them around a bit. Sanity, as intact as ever, which wasn’t saying much they mused. Their body stretched like taffy when they took up a place on the too small cot and they gingerly prodded at the stiches over one of their wounds, automatically triggering responses that numbed their nerves. Pain worked. Pain was a great drug. They noted they were hungry. That was going to be the Assholes in Uniform’s way in.

Notes for later; All part of the plan.
***

Session two, they took out the gag, but left the machines. They could feel the wires over their scalp, and as expected it was Satan who got the first word. Let’s show them our magnanimous natures. Get them on side. They knew this game. It made them want to spit. Instead they looked up with puppy dog eyes.

“Hungry? We can get you something. Some coffee maybe.”

“No, thank you,” They said, smiling in such an easy, condescending manner that Milhouse just had to roar with anger and stand up, throwing his chair with a metallic clatter and spat invectives.

“What did you come here to steal?” Wally, consumate professional. Sounding bored. This is his thousandth interrogation.

“I just wanted a place to sleep. Thanks for the cot.”
***

Earlier:

REMEMBER THE MISSION. NOTHING WORKS WITHOUT THE MARTYR

THE PLAN IS TOO FAR IN ACTION TO STOP

THEY HAVE THREE DAYS.

***

Even with their enhancements, it was just too difficult to sleep through the pain. Besides, it was better that they start feeling the effects of their smart mouth. They lay curled in the fetal position, arms wrapped around their knees, fingers smashed into smithereens. Tears streaked down their face and onto their shoulder. It was so, so much to ask.

But they could take it. They could pay the price.

All part of the plan. They repeated it like a mantra. Over and over and over, refusing stubbornly to turn on powerful biological enhancements that would ease the pain and begin the process of repair. The temperature was going up. They guessed that this was intentional. Deny them sleep, make it too hot to get any rest, and start all over again tomorrow. They were surprised that they were not yet blasting noise into the tiny cell. Maybe they thought it would scare away the cockroaches.

All part of the plan. One more day. Let them do their worst.

***

They did. This time they brought out the tools. Acetylene torches. Pliers. The whole shebang. They knew what they were getting into. When even Satan stood placidly by while Milhouse worked his magic on their chest, they focused in on the pain, made it simply too big to feel, and screamed freely. Give them a show. A very, very realistic show. Milhouse was enjoying his work, getting his revenge on the cocky little shit in front of him. Let him.

Wally, next.

“What did you come for. You didn’t get any data. You didn’t get any codes. You didn’t get any credits. You weren’t even trying to.” The man leaned forward and looked them in the eye that wasn’t swollen shut, and tried to read their motive through their soul. They looked right on back at Wally and met blue eyes with red.

Tough shit. They didn’t have one.

Another round of pain for them, and joy for Milhouse, and the same questions were repeated.

“What were you hoping to steal?”

This time, they let a bloody grin show. They felt it.

“Time.”

***

The medics were the first to rush through the doors, accompanied by the police. Then the lawyers. Then the media. Their friends, and blessed relief. They relished in the confusion and shock. Inviolable! Corporate property means Sovreignty! Trans-nationalism!

The lawyers shouted right on back. The medics got to work. The media filmed it all. They gave the media a good show. Tears, pain, wracked sobs. They were it, the perfect martyr.

All part of the plan.

 

We can fork you up to three times

“Thank you for calling ResTech, how can I help you today?”

“Can you explain this bill I got?”

“Of course. Give me a moment to bring up your information. Thank you. I see that you signed up for our-”

“Hold it! I didn’t sign up for anything!”

“…I’m sorry sir. I can see that you signed up for our special Life Insurance service…”

“Life insurance, yes! I expected premiums but this looks more like a subscription fee.”

“Absolutely. It is one. Life insurance as a service. You pay a low monthly fee of two hundred credits…”

“TWO HUNDRED CREDITS?!”

“Yes, sir… Two hundred credits, and for that we monitor your neural activity, and at the moment of death, we download your latest saved personality state into our servers. You cheat death.”

“You do what with my what? I can’t believe I signed up for something that allows ResTech to read my mind any time it wants.”

“Oh, its very quite handy, sir, and not at all invasive. Our policy procedures are very strict!”

“I think I get to determine what invasive means. You’re literally reading my mind right now. How is that even possible.”

“Through the network, sir.”

“Through the- You know what? Get me your supervisor. I want to cancel this.”

“Well there is the little matter of the cancellation fee.”

“The what- Cancellation fee? Dear Christ on a cracker! Get me your supervisor. Now.”

****

“So I think you can see how that could have been handled better, don’t you?”

“I mean, I really don’t. I feel like he came in looking for a fight.”

“Oh, sure, and that will happen. Not every customer is going to be a happy one, but your job is to try to turn them around.”

“…Okay, how could I have improved?”

“It’s all in the phrasing. Lead off with the benefits. Life after death. Continuance of You. Nothing was certain except death and taxes, ha ha, you know what I mean?”

“Sure, okay, I can see that. But how do we position, you know, the fact that we have to read their mind states to do it.”

“Well, the positive here is that you did mention our privacy and security policy.”

“I don’t think he was buying that.”

“Sure, and that’s why you only need to get a 65% on your NPS metric.”

“Okay. Well. I will keep this in mind.”

“There is one other thing.”

“Uh oh.”

“Well, it’s not that serious, but you’re only taking one call at a time.”

“I mean… yes?”

“You can do up to three.”

“I thought that was a joke.”

“Oh no. That’s how we meet our handle time. You can fork yourself up to three times to handle the calls.”

“I hate forking.”

“Needs of the business. Besides, the sooner you…”

“…Yeah…”

“…Right. So I can expect you to start working yourself up to three calls at a time. Great! What do you think well this week?”

***

“Hey, how’s your shift going?”

“Damnit. It’s hard enough having to fork myself three times. I don’t have the processing for a forth. I’m busy.”

“You get used to it. Did you hear about Frank’s customer?”

“No. What about Frank’s customer.”

“Okay, so, Frank gets on the line right and he gets this guy on the line and starts talking about how we’re abominations against nature. I mean. Come on. Get with the 22nd century, right?”

“…Sure.”

“Oh come on.”

“What?”

“You don’t buy into all that bullshit do you?”

“I mean…”

“Oh COME ON.”

“Well I mean, okay, it’s great that I didn’t die. Or whatever. But what am I now?”

“You’re you.”

“Well, right now I’m one forth of me.”

“Close enough. Anyways, you only have to run those during business hours.”

“Eighteen hours a day.”

“You run on computer time. It might as well be a thousand years. It’s slow enough that its meaningless.”

“Doesn’t this seem wrong to you?”

“No.”

“…Well, it does to me.”

“Hey, its a paycheck, right? Another day, another fifty cents, ha! Anyways, just got a call, back to work.”

***

 

“Thank you for calling ResTech, how can I help you today?”
“Thank you for calling ResTech, how can I help you today?”
“Thank you for calling ResTech, how can I help you today?”

Apprentice; Pt1

Let me tell you about magic;
We take copper from the earth, and we heat it
And we mix it with tin in very specific quantities
And with that we build a shovel
To dig for more copper and tin
Or we make a sword
And take a mine from the neighbor
Or we build a shield
And protect our Godking
It is our wills that make it so.
-Annals 1, Tablet 1

Stork cast her first spell when she was eleven years old. It was a simple thing, hardly magic at all, at least not compared to the stories she had heard tell of great and grand wizards who could set entire battlefields ablaze with the power of their righteous anger, or who could make a forest bloom during the dry season.

Her mother had named her Stork when she was born in the hopes that like that noble bird, she would be tall and beautiful. When she was eleven she was hardly higher than her beloved fathers fence that surrounded their crops, and so she simply willed herself to grow tall. That summer, she had experienced a growth spurt that left her even taller than most of the boys of her village, Ashvati. If she stood on her tip toes, she could even reach things on the highest shelves that her father no longer could. It left her gangly, and lanky, but she was proud, and that counted for a lot at the age of eleven. She could look at her reflection in the river at the height of the day when the farmers all took their rest and ate the communal meal at its banks. Her long brown hair was curled, and she was told by the elders that they could see her mother in her eyes. She decided that she was happy enough with that.

Her mother had died giving birth to her sister Sparrow, when Stork was five years old. Now seventeen, and still as tall as ever, Stork helped her father in the fields while her sister tended to the work their mother would have done, preparing the meals and taking care of their mud hut. This was where Stork cast her second spell.

The heat of the day during the growing season was simply too hot for most to be able to work, and so the farmers of the village would wake up very early to do the bulk of their work, and break during the worst parts of the day when then heat made little shimmering mirages in the fields. Not so Stork and her father. She would raise up her voice in song, singing not in language but in tone, and keep herself and her beloved father cool during those worst parts of the day. Together, the two of them could work harder and longer than any other family in the village, and practice more care in the growth of their crops. Over time, with her help, they managed to plant more crops, and tend more fields, than anyone else in Ashvati, and while this did not mean that they were rich, it did mean that they were more comfortable than most, and could afford a cart, and a donkey to pull it to the market in the city of Devahki, where the Godking lived, and rent a small stall in the market there to sell their wares, and the wares of those of their neighbors which they purchased with the profits. It was a good life, and a comfortable life.

She was not satisfied. She wanted to be a Wizard.

Stork had told her sister Sparrow this, one night during the storm season when the two of them had huddled under a blanket. She had said this to comfort her sister, who was shivering with fear at the howl of the wind outside, a wind so fierce that it could strip the flesh off the unprotected. The very wrath of Shaki, the God of Destruction.

“Do not worry, Sparrow,” she had said then, “One day I will be a Wizard and I will be able to protect you and all the village from the wind.”

But Sparrow was a pragmatic girl.

“How can you be a Wizard, Stork. You’re a girl.”

“I will do it, Sparrow. Just you watch me.”

And so she cast her third spell then, that night, in the darkness when her sister had finally fallen asleep. She wrapped the storm around herself, and focused her will, and determined that she would be a Wizard. Then she too fell asleep, and in the morning while helping her father assess the damage she had let her dream slip from her mind in favor of more practical concerns, like where they were going to purchase another Donkey to replace old Leatherfoot.
***

It was a bad year, and a worse harvest.

A war began, and what little food they had was taken by the Godking’s assessors to feed the army that would march on the lands of the city to the north. The day they came, they called the entire village into the square around the well, and told them that they would be conscripting any men between the age of fourteen and fifty who were considered strong enough and fit enough to hold a spear. They had already piled the bales of rice and wheat, and the baskets of ripe turnips in their carts. The men were made to do basic exercises, and looked over by a man in a hat adorned with blue peacock feathers.

The Assessor looked her father up and down, even had the temerity to grab his proud chin with slender fingers and turn his head from side to side, before running his hand over his stooped back.

“Too short,” He said, and Stork had never been so happy to have her father insulted in her life.

The following months were hard, not just on her and her family, but on the whole village. They all had to work extra hard, sweating out in the sun and starving, to try to salvage the harvest. With most of the men of the village gone, women like Sparrow had to learn to do the work that Stork had been doing all her life. Sunshine, two huts over, lost her unborn child to malnutrition and overwork, and everyone mourned because of what could have been. Sparrow, by this time a gifted healer even at the age of twelve, stopped working in the fields to tend to Sunshine and see her through the worst of her sickness and grief. Stork spent her time in the fiends, singing with her father and keeping cool even in the hottest sun of the day.

They discussed holding a festival – they had very little food to hold a feast but it was common knowledge that such things were blessed by Seela, the Goddess of Mercy. Her family had become leaders in the village, and it was up to them to see them all through these times. They were working hard, when Stork noticed something that made her heart skip a beat; Part of their field of wheat, the tips had turned black. There was a blight.

She gathered her father, and showed him the infected stocks, and so they spent the rest of the day tearing down all their hard work of the past many weeks, careful to keep the diseased wheat away from anything they found that was safe. To be sure, they also tore down the neighboring sections of the field, and carried their many hours of effort to the bank of the river and set fire to it.

Stork saw her father cry for the first time since they lost her mother, there on the roaring banks of their villages lifeblood.
***

It was more important than ever that they hold a festival with what they had. When Sunshine had recovered, and Sparrow was free, Stork pulled her sister aside, and organized. Coincidently, the day of highest auspiciousness was also Stork’s birthday. The blight had spread despite their best efforts, and so much of their crop was ruined. Her father was despondent and despairing, and so Stork often worked what fields were left alone.

The chosen night was warm, and the village pooled their remaining stores to make a delicious, if thin, curried stew. They all danced around the fire, and sang songs to Seela to show mercy to them all, and to let the last harvest of the year be a rich one. The moon was at its fullest, and all the women of the village danced in their grandest colors to please the Goddess, and the remaining men sat at tables and talked and drank a honeyed wine. Stork noticed one man in particular approach her father. As stooped as her father was, the man who came to him and spoke with him made him look tall and strong. He seemed positively ancient to Stork, and she could not remember having seen him before. Curiously, when her part in the village dance was done, she approached her father, who had her sit down next to him.

“Do you sing?” asked the old man to her directly.

“I do,” said Stork, answering before her father could do so for her.

“When you sing, does magic happen?”

She got up and left the table, feeling her heart beating in her chest like the river.
***

The old man did not leave the village the next day. He stayed at the tables, and even helped to clean up after the festival was done. He told the villagers stories about great deeds, and powerful men. He told them about their sons and husbands, away at war, winning honor and glory for their Godking. To hear him tell it, they were winning the war handily, and everyone would be back by spring with riches and spoils to share.

He always kept his eye on Stork, however, and no matter how much she tried, she could not escape the shiver she felt down her spine.

He’d spoken of magic.

Later that night, after tending the fields and finding another section ruined by the blight, he was standing in the field with her, both hands clutching his staff for support as he stood in the dirt. His robes were dirty and musty, and dragged in the ground, and he clicked his tongue at the increasingly empty harvest that awaited the village.

“Did you cause this?” He asked her, his voice creaking with age.

“Of course I didn’t! How could I?”

The old man grunted, and got to his knees in the dirt. He dug his fingers through the soil, and brought his finger and thumb to his nose. He sniffed, and then looked up at her. He shook his head.

“You are not meant to be a farmer,” He said, still on his knees, his staff beside him on the ground.

Her heart trilled, and she looked at him wide eyed.

“What do you mean?”

“When you sing, you make magic. But magic makes changes too. Like this.” He waved his hands towards the fields, barren and empty now. “What a waste this would be, if you spent your life digging in the dirt to grow turnips, when you could be doing so much more. You could be a wizard.”
***

She packed her things, and kissed her father and her sister goodbye. The old man, who claimed his name was Ravi, had told her it was best if she left before the final harvest was planted, implying that she was the cause of the blight. Sparrow was strong, and Stork was proud of that, and her father hugged her tight and gave her the bag packed with dried fruits, and mementos of home. She kissed him on the cheek, and even she cried. Wiping away tears, she left the only home she had ever known, to walk beside the old man and his ass.

The journey to the city had been one she made many times, but always with a cart full of produce to sell at the markets. She stood taller than Ravi even when he was riding. Along the way, Ravi told her of all the wonders of Wizardry – of great power, and the need to wield that power responsibly. He told her of the Art and Science of the Academy, and how they were in the process of capturing the source of magic, of codifying it and writing it down. He told her that they would teach her all of these things, how to read and write the clay tablets she had seen some of the richer nobles carry. He told her of the majesty of the academy, and how rigorous the school was.

None of this mattered to Stork; All that mattered was a memory of being under a blanket, telling Sparrow of this very moment.
***

Heat

Tyler had taken his fifth shower that day trying to survive the oppressive heat that had infested his loft apartment like a disease. The worst thing about it all was that it was September. He had long since packed up during the early part of the month. He felt the water run down his body, intentionally set to be as cold as he could stand.
When the heat got to its worst, he felt like his brain was going to start leaking out of his ears and onto a puddle on the floor, and he frankly just wasn’t going to have the energy to get his mop and clean it up. He’d already spent the bulk of the day putting up his eighteenth window to the outside world, and that was just draining the life out of him. The shower helped energize him, at least. In part.
After about fifteen minutes, he stepped out into the forty degree Celsius air of the apartment, the heat washing over him like a blanket. He skipped drying himself and instead walked out into his apartment full of windows to the outside. He let his eyes wander over the windows as they played out the scenes from the news. A continual feed of the outside world poured into his apartment.
He hadn’t slept for three days.
He had tried! Oh goodness, how he had tried. The bed was covered in his sweat, never fully drying in the humidity that just amplified the oppressive heat. He looked at his thermostat, where the little indicator had long since left behind the last marked temperature and now was pointing parallel to the floor, to the right. He sighed, and went to his computer to order another window off the internet.
***

Four days without sleep, and the news told him that the heatwave was never going to end. He sat naked in his office chair, and stared into the brightly glowing windows, watching murders, and hatred, and watched the world step to the brink. Apparently the ocean only needed three hundred and ten gigatonnes of carbon dioxide added to them to trigger such catastrophic effects that there would be another great extinction. Tyler, at this point, was cheering for it.
He watched a hateful gnome preach a message to hatred in a church bigger than most buildings Tyler had ever been in. He felt the heat of it. The other day he had ordered a digital thermometer to keep track of the temperature and found that the apartment was exactly forty-five degrees Celsius, and going up.
Sighing, he peeled himself off the chair, his skin pulling at the sweat-stained material. It was too hot for clothes so he just gave up and lived naked. He covered up the two actual windows to the outside with cardboard, preferring the action packed glow of the fifteen windows he had manually placed on the wall, surrounding himself with the fruits of the information age. Maybe with enough input, he could keep himself distracted.
The eighth shower of the day felt amazing. He did as he always did. He turned it on blasting hot to start with, like he was stepping into the shower like normal, and then gradually lowered the temperature of the water until it was as cold as it could be. He loved it in here. It was a relief to be away from the heat.
***

On the fifth day, he realized he hadn’t eaten, and more to the point he didn’t want to, so after his sixth shower of the day he got to work clearing out his fridge. He basked in the cool air it ejected when he had the door open, so he took his time. The fifteen windows blared behind him, each turned to full volume in an attempt to find peace through cacophony, but he didn’t want peace. He wanted the noise. He felt the horror of it wash over him every time he managed to make out something in the din. His neighbors had knocked on the door a few times, but he knew none of them could get in. He had sealed the doors with the same cardboard he had used to cover up the windows.
The air didn’t move anymore, anywhere. It was too hot in the apartment for that, and he had long since stopped noticing. He couldn’t smell it either. One of the advantages of staying in the apartment was that you just got used to it.
Nothing to worry about, except what was coming in from the windows.
Tyler left the door to the fridge open after he dumped all the food into extra large garbage bags and tied them with the little green stickers, and then realized he had no where to put them. He opened up an otherwise empty closet and shoved the bag into it, before he tried to close it. The bulky bag was just a bit too much for the closet door, and so it refused to close. Shrugging to himself, Tyler stepped into the bathroom and took shower number seven.

***
A full week without sleep. The heatwave was showing no signs of stopping. He didn’t even try to lie in bed anymore.
He had ordered a bundle of extension cords off of the internet, and was busy snaking them along the floor. He had decided that in the fifty degree heat he needed to spend more time in the shower. He didn’t want to leave the windows behind.
After shower ten, he finally got the energy to finish the job. He moved all fifteen windows from the wall he had bracketed them in. He had to break in the middle of setting them up to get in shower eleven. Just to cool off. When his brains leaked out of his ears he had only had the energy to push them into a corner of the room.
An hour later, with the temperature still going off, he had managed to set up his fifteen windows to the outside in the bathroom, and hopped into the shower.
He let the water run down his body, and turned on the windows that surrounded him, and sighed with absolute pleasure as the heat baked him, and then slid off him with the water, and into the drain.