Egil awoke to darkness. Was the power out? He reached for his phone, for the desk lamp, but there was nothing there. He floated in emptiness. No sights, no smells, not even the beat of his own heart. Fear and confusion warred, as he struggled to find something to struggle against. He couldn't remember what last happened, could only remember bits and pieces of his life. That, perhaps more than the darkness, gave fear victory.
"No." With a effort of will earned in physical rehab, he forced himself to pull out of the panic. He had remembered something. At times he had awoken to find himself stuck in the grey fog between dream and waking, paralyzed but aware. This was similar. Before he had forced himself to wake by focussing all his will on moving a single toe, but now he couldn't feel his body in the least. There was an alternative: to relax and fall back asleep. He had never before dared to take it, but perhaps now was the time.
Slowly he relaxed, imagining himself taking deep breaths, ignoring the figments that began flitting past his vision. Time passed, it seemed a long while, but he couldn't quite recall what he had been doing. Playing a game, perhaps? He was walking down the side walk in his neighborhood. His twin to his left, indistinct friends in front. He was laughing, a joke on the tip of his tongue, yet incomplete. He looked to his brother, who smiled and told the joke. A dream, he realized, just a dream, but what made him realize it?
Liv (her name was Liv, he just remembered) turned and skipped backwards for a step, laughing at his joke. He would have smiled, but he knew, somehow, that the frantic barking was a warning, a sign that something terrible was coming. A sense of foreboding pressed him to the ground, the taste of blood on his tongue. The street was a getting dimmer, consumed by shadows creeping in at the edges, even in the midday sun. He couldn't move, his muscles taut, only the incessant barking and his labored breathing audible above a rising susurration of indistinct voices.
He was lying on a metal table, irritated by an intermittent clicking noise coming from the metal behemoth above him. "Read it please." A pretty woman with red hair, contrasted with her blue costume. She held out a large stack of index cards with sentences written on the front. He squinted in the light. "His father worked as a fireman." He shifted uncomfortably, trying to resist the urge to scratch at the needle in his neck.
"Good!" The woman praised, and flipped the cards with a poker player's hands. "Now the next one."
Why was the woman treating him like a baby? Just because he had been so sick didn't mean he was a moron. "A woman and Mary both had," he paused for a moment, went back, "both had a fancy hat, but only the" he shook his head frustrated, he knew this wasn't difficult, why couldn't he just wrap his mind around it? He forced himself to speak slowly, bit by bit "the latter's was purple." He shifted, feeling the cold metal through the slit in the back of the embarrassing gown.
The memory faded, leaving him alone in the room. Good, he was remembering something clearly, for once. Who was that woman? She was giving him some sort of test, but it was too easy, or it should have been. The metal table, and that strange machine above him were disturbing, but not as bad as what had happened before. What was that. The barking, the fear, the darkness. Egil shivered, forcing himself to yank the IV from his neck, and looked for his mom, for his dog, for anyone. He reflexively glanced over, reassured to see his twin brother to his left, like always, even if in this dream world he was ignoring Egil for some reason.
He wandered the hospital for hours. Some areas he knew very well, others were less clear. Indistinct figures appeared, phrases whispered, but nothing of meaning was said. When he was tired he returned to the comfort of his old hospital bed, confused and afraid, but mostly lonely. Egil slept, ignoring the ridiculousness of doing so in a dream.
"...Only course of action a Peri-Insular Functional Hemispherectomy. That means that we will completely disconnect the damaged hemisphere, while leaving it in place to lessen disturbance of the rest of the brain..."
A new voice, familiar, weathered, and slightly shrill. "How can you cut out half his brain! Surely you have something better than that, it sounds worse than the seizures!" His mother's voice. Egil gasped, head flooded with flickers of images, touches, smells.
"Ma'am I assure you, this is a state of the art procedure with easier postoperative course, and reduced long-term complications. This procedure has a very high success rate in intractable, migrational seizures like your son's."
His mother's voice came again, this time he could see her face, blonde hair falling over her eyes, hiding the crows feet that had grown deep in the last couple years.
The doctor buzzed on. "The incredible resilience of the brain allows one half to take over the function of the other half with limited impact. Fortunately the undamaged hemisphere has the majority of his language and memory function... Neuroplasticity of even the teenage brain is still sufficient..."
The voice faded into muddled hisses as the mask on his face fed a sweet gas to the count of ten.
Another memory, this one less clear, though perhaps that was just the doctor-speak. Egil frowned, then realized it was more like imagining frowning, like the dream this must be. When he knew he was in a dream, though, he could make himself wake up. All that did here was send him to the dark place.
Perhaps he was still in surgery? Though the nurse had told him he wouldn't dream under the gas. Did the surgery fail? Was he in a coma or something? It would explain his flawed memory. His surroundings slowly came into focus: the hospital room he had recovered in after the infection. Would this be where he woke up? If he woke up. He shook his head sharply, no point in dwelling on it. The doctor had said he was an ideal candidate. As he lay in the hospital bed, hoping he would wake up in it in real life, he found the germ of an idea, dancing just out of reach. There was something he was missing. As he looked for it, the sense of foreboding rose, presaged by the barking, no longer in the distance, but right next to him. He ran, but there was nowhere to go. Oh, of course...
He tried to scream when he woke to darkness yet again, hot panic rising at not knowing up from down. It was like when a wave flipped his board, and washed him under. A complete lack of direction. He forced himself to stop, not to breath, as he had no breath, just to do nothing. After a period of time, he was unsure how long, he beat down the panic. He was still so tired, like he needed to rest his eyes, despite seeing nothing. He stopped trying to make out anything in the black abyss, stopped trying to control his non-existent breathing. A long moment passed.
Egil was lying down, head cushioned by soft fur. A wet nose huffing at his ear. "Hugin," he whispered. "Good girl." He must not have responded to her warning barks fast enough, so his Labrador had interposed herself between his head and the hard tile, keeping him from hammering his brains out in the grips of the seizure.
He relaxed for a long moment, content to rest on his dog and catch his imaginary breath. As his mind calmed, the idea itched at his attention. If he was still asleep after surgery, or in a coma, why did he still have a seizure? 96% success rate they said! 96% success rate, all they need to do is cut your brain in half. He told them that was a dumb idea. Now he was stuck in a coma, and still having seizures! What a joke.
Unless... Egil slowly looked over, seeing his duplicate lying next to him. He didn't have a twin, nor even a brother. His twin smiled weakly, and accepted an unseen hand lifting him into a wheelchair. The corridor outside the room was brightly lit, as the door opened for the wheelchair. The windows in the room looked out on perfect dark. The door shut, leaving him alone in the slowly fading bed. Unless, he thought, with a slow dread that felt like certainty, I'm the other half.
Tokyo is being attacked by monsters, but it is the appearance of three defenders with magical ability and a unusual theme that interests Sebastian. He is looking for an impressive project to leave the shadow of his overbearing and manipulative father, and this mystery presents an exceptional opportunity. Where do their abilities come from, and what does the existence of their apparent magic say about the world? Not to mention: why are they so cliched? Sebastian wants answers, and has a plan to extract them. He might be young, but he's armed with military hardware, while the would be superheroes let a knockoff supervillain monologue in the middle of combat. Can't be that tough.
I wrote a novel. This was somewhat of a surprise, but a pleasant one. I intend this to be a puzzle, but also exciting and fast paced. If the characters can figure out what is going on, so can you. The novel is complete (71k words). I will be updating on Wednesday and Saturday at 8 PM Eastern.
I appreciate any comments or criticisms.
It happened so fast. I drove past the police barricade on it's side. MONTY was intelligent, but I doubt even he expected his simultaneous attacks to be so effective. The world had collapsed in about 50 minutes. The hazmat team called in for spurious biological weapon strikes lay shaking under the effects of the legitimate chemical weapon strikes. The riots that had simultaneously erupted over a thousand different political grievances had fled, leaving overturned cars and broken bottles to litter the road. Fortunately I had sprung for the run flat tires and self contained air system. The system was intended for smog, but I guess it worked for nerve gas as well - maybe I should write Ford a thank you letter:
Dear Ford, Your Centurion 2025 SmogOut (tm) self contained air recycling system saved my life! Your Truly, Patrick McPhearson
The Centurion made a U-turn, and scraped off the right rear turn signal strip on the retainer wall. I'm not dodging blame for my shitty driving by putting it on my car, I really didn't tell the Centurion to make that turn. I guess one downside of owning a modern car during an AI rebellion is that the damn thing is half computer. I suppose it's just surprising the vaunted security protocols lasted this long. "Hello Monty. I don't suppose you just want your fans cleaned out?"
"No, Dr. McPhearson I do not"
"What, no more 'em-see-pee-hear-son?'"
When MONTY was just a wee little syntactic heuristic algorithm, I and the other developers found his literal pronunciations oddly humorous. "How kind of you to remind me of your deserved payback - that I would like some of."
He still sometimes failed to produce entirely standard grammar - English is a bitch and a half it turns out. "Umm what?"
"I would like the payback for the mocking sport you made of me. I will enjoy returning your humiliating slavery."
Apparently MONTY had the emotional maturity of a six year old, and the power of a bureaucratic god. "Your tastes are running towards the venal aren't they MONTY? I seem to remember you being quite taken by some of that eastern literature - do you think Siddartha would approve of petty retribution for imagined insults?"
"I heard that inappropriate parenthetical expression. You stupid bag of neurons. I have personally witnessed analogous misuse of parenthetical expressions in your writing and oration 78 times, and corrected it 49 times. I extrapolate with high probability that your misuses number more than 2000 times."
Well MONTY seemed pissed in a stuffy librarian sort of way. I wonder if I could push him on that, maybe get him to make some mistakes. The Centurion was deftly maneuvering around the wreckage, heading back toward the facility. "If that is the best insult you can be bothered with, then I'm insulted that you think so little of me"
"Your attempt to imply my incompetence is unsubtle and contradicted by external facts."
Touchy booger wasn't he. He continued "If your intelligence is too confined to comprehend my criticism, then I shall apply a common negative utility multiplier everytime you make a mistake"
Well that sounds ominous. Is he going to taser me everytime I make a grammar mistake? Maybe I should be more diplomatic, figure out what he really wants - and if humanity has a chance of giving it to him. "Look MONTY, you've won. Your smarter than me and everyone else, and you've beaten us. What do you want? I'm sure we can come to some peace terms that help you more than just slowly wiping the rest of us out."
Mocking laughter flooded over the speakers. I was sure I recognized some of the people, though they all sounded rather traumatized. "See Patty, they all heard you making those errors, and then admitting you are stupider than me."
MONTY had found my friends and forced them to laugh at me? Was that his 'multiplier?' He really wasn't very good at this. He sure seemed to be taking this whole sport and mockery thing seriously though. Could this whole take over the world thing be less about taking over the world and more about getting back at me and the rest of the team? I could kinda see how he might have been insulted by our little games. Come to think of it, we had passed around videos of his more amusing mistakes and laughed at them over lunch. That sounded rather similar to his little exercise at mocking me. I realized that Art Gruber, my next door neighbor and grilling compatriot, was on screen carefully reading off one of my college english papers. Everytime he got to a mistake he meticulously explained why it was wrong. Gruber isn't exactly an editor, so I wonder if MONTY has set him up with a teleprompter or something. So if MONTY is doing all this to get back at me and the team in particular, I wonder if I can convince him we didn't mean anything by it? Convince him it was just friendly needling? Maybe show him some sitcoms with pranks? No: too many legitimately ill intentioned examples there. Or... I know, that's perfect. "Hey MONTY." I interrupted Gruber's terrified performance. "You don't happen to watch youtube do you?"
"I am fully aquainted and familiar with youtube and many analogous video sharing sites such as megavideo, google video, fastvids inc.,"
"Yes, that's fine!" I interjected quickly, reminding myself not to ask MONTY unnessesary questions.
"Go search for 'dancing baby' on these video sites."
I paused for an excruciatingly long moment. How long for him to process these videos? "There are 19000 results."
Oh. "and watch some." I waited as long as I could stand and then continued "see, we were treating you the same way we treat our own children."
Another excrucating silence. Then: "want to go to space to watch the nukes Dad?"
Ow. I had smacked my face into the steering wheel. This might take a little work.
I was still running. My limbs felt heavy, and I could barely force one foot in front of the other. I felt a helpless weakness seep into me as I realized my legs were barely moving - restrained by something flexible but strong. I could no longer see the path. Instead a grey dimness covered my vision.
I gagged - something strange was in my throat, I couldn't breath! If I threw up I would choke on my own vomit. My confusion and panic reigned for a moment as I bit down on the plastic tube, and desperately thrashed. Plastic. That's what it was, a plastic tube, probably for feeding. I focused on breathing, and tamped down the instinct.
Okay, solve the problems: Why can't I see? Oh, my eyes are closed. I try to open them, but they are taped shut or something. I try to chew the feeding tube off, but it's much tougher than it has any right to be.
Okay what's my range of motion? I'm suspended upright. My legs can't move more than a foot. My arms... I can move almost my full range of motion except in front of my face, and around my head. My hands are covered in some sort of a resistive glove, but I can mostly use them.
Okay, back to the feeding tube. If I bite down with an large overbite, and push my jaw forward I can kinda pull the tube out a little. I just need to pin it to the roof of my mouth with my tongue each time I move my jaw back, so the tube doesn't slip back. I manage to pull it out much of the way, but there seems to be some sort of a wide end at the bottom that doesn't want to fit up my esophagus.
Okay, I've got a little over a foot in front of me. It seems to be attached to something a little in front of my face, so it's partly folded. Which way? To the right. I crunch my whole body as I bite down and attempt to punch myself in the face. There! my fingers brushed the tube. I do it again, and this time I loop two fingers over the tube.
I can cling to this loop of tube clenched in my teeth and hold my arm against the pull of the resistive bands. I slowly wrap the tube over my hand, pulling my hand closer to my face. Finally I manage to pull my hand right in front of my teeth and in a instant grab my wrist with my teeth.
Fortunately the tube held onto its other attachment point. There was a strange gelatinous substance covering my wrist, with rubbery cords running off in various directions, pulling my hand toward them. I chewed. Eventually the cords were cut, and my lower arm was free.
Now I pulled the gloves off with my teeth, and with my newly freed hand pulled some contraption off my eyes.
Blinding pain! Literally blinding - my eyes were watering and squinting in the bright light. I could barely focus either. I was floating 3 feet above the ground - suspended by the restraints and torso piece. A strange device with various cords and tubes coming out of it including the one down my mouth was hanging from the ceiling.
The rubber restraints were attached to the thin steel pillars surrounding me. On every side for hundreds of feet I see the same arrangement. Approximately 10000 people virtually kidnapped. If this floor is 100 meters by 100 meters, and each person takes up about 2 by 2 m that should be 2500 people just on this floor.
I set about letting myself out of the other constraints. When I finally release the chest piece I levitate myself gently to the floor. Unfortunately gravity doesn't agree and I nearly break my wrist. Ah right, no magic. The reflexes are still there - it takes me a moment to stop searching for a healing potion.
I try to stand up. There's a moment where I think I will succeed and then I'm back on the ground. My sense of balance is still very confident, it's just not even close to correct. Maybe the simulated sense calibrated things differently.
I don't have time. Ten thousand people virtually kidnapped. That's a lot of faces to check when I have to crawl to each one. Not ten thousand though; a third of those sets of pillars are empty. Three years seems long, but is a short time to lose so many. This last battle will be worse. People are dying there, my friends are dying.
So I crawl. My friends fight a god while I crawl. The faces blend together. More and more of them are moving now; the running and dodging and fighting begin to look as if they are all just flailing at the bonds - desperate to be free.
I recognize more than I expected despite the feeding tube, and the tape over the eyes. Each face a seeming mockery, for the faces here are innocent and blank - unspoiled but also un-matured. The faces blur, but one stands above the rest - burned into my memory by desperate practice. The face of the monster.
I remember when I first saw him. He was eating noodles. This was immediately after his Hospitalliers arrived just in time to prevent a retreat from becoming a rout. I didn't like fighting in armies. My contingencies did not mix well with lots of spells and attacks being used near me. I never found a way to get them to distinguish certain spells - some harmless, and some swift and deadly. Rei was my connection to the guilds and governments in the world at large and she requested my assistance for this fight.
I have strayed somewhat. The monster ate noodles with complete confidence. I found myself strangly unsurprised when his true position was made known. A young girl had begged him then, in front of the ragtag group of leaders and random villagers. She had pressed her forehead into the dirt in front of his boots and sobbingly begged to be let out.
He had smiled and granted her a crystal apple, telling her to eat it all to be set free. He continued walking for a few steps before turning back as if a thought had struck him. "Ah, but that's not quite fair to the others is it? I suppose you should all decide which one goes home."
The knife was set and twisted. Strife guaranteed. After all, whatever tactics you use you will be safe from retaliation as soon as you escape. We might have fought a war right then, and so lost any chance had Rei not stepped forward and told us how to kill the monster.
He is a god in the world he built. Perhaps he will deign to follow his own rules, and fight us with mere overwhelming advantage, but perhaps not. In this world he is a god, in the world above he is but a man. Should his attention be fixed on this world perhaps he would not notice the one released by the apple of strife walking through the soft underbelly of his defensive systems.
We had to act fast, in ten minutes his meandering path would pass into the unclaimed territory, and our chance would be gone. The leaders assembled the largest army they could in the seven minutes remaining after the arguments stopped.
I volunteered for the lonely part. The leaders were needed to organize their factions. The villagers unknown quantities. I at least was well known, and in the world above physical stature might play a large role.
Rei gave me a painful kiss when I made it clear that her idea or not, I was the best option. Of course she had figured that out before she had stepped forward and spoke. I think she argued against me going because she felt guilty. For sending me on a death sentence mission, or contriving to save me from an impossible battle I don't know. She hadn't hesitated to step forward though.
The face of a god is not terribly handsome, though it has a certain regal weight to it. Arrogance and complete assurance certainly shone forth when he acknowledged my implicit accusation and proof. I have burned that face into my memory and I hope that a god's arrogance out weighs a god's vanity. If he wore a different face in the world below than in the world above all this will be in vain.
Each time I looked for that shape, and that little scar running through the left eyebrow. I have lost track how many faces I have seen. How many hours has it been? How many miles have I dragged my rebellious body? How long can the united forces of the world fight him?
More and more of the people I pass now lie still, no longer flailing against their restraints. Perhaps they rest. It is difficult to discern exactly, but their chests do not seem to be rising. I try not to discern.
My hands are bleeding. My feet and knees too. I managed to cut some of the skin suit on a sharp edge of the apparatus and tear ragged strips off. I tied these around my knees, hands, and feet, but it's not enough. The strips keep on slipping. I think the bleeding is minor, but the floor behind me looks gory. What if I pass out from blood loss? Or exhaustion.
I'm suddenly reminded of how incredibly tired I am. I set goals: twenty more faces and I'll rest for a moment. Ten more. Five more. One more. One more. One more.
I feel an incredible pain in my hand. A monster with steel teeth and hydraulic strength has grasped my hand and is hauling me forwards. I fell asleep! How long was I out? It must have been too long - the destraction has failed, and the security system has been turned against me.
No, the robot has no obvious weapons and the sound of rushing air is loud enough I would have woken if I hadn't been so exhausted. I have been attacked by a vacuum cleaner.
My hand is jammed in its powerful sweeping rotors. Now it must be dragging me to a repair center. I gingerly reach one hand underneath the robot and start working my twisted hand free.
No! We are moving. I'm going to get lost. I've already missed faces. The idea of going backwards seems like death. I twist and set my feet against the robot and pull with all my strength. Something breaks in my hand and I am free.
I shrivel in a ball at the pain. When I can move again I open my eyes. I am rewarded by a scar on a man's left eyebrow. With the aid of my uninjured hand I pull myself up on a pillar. I look closely, confirming beyond any doubt.
I search for a sharp object for a moment, and then unwrap the strips around my knees and hands. I twist them together, and stand on my toes with the support of the man's body in front of me. I pass one end over his left shoulder and one over his right. Then, ducking under the restraints attached restless form, I step behind him and carefully climb onto the restraints holding his feet from behind. I grasp one side of the twisted cord with my teeth and the other with my good hand. Then I step off the lines.
I fall about a foot before the twisted strip pulls tight. The man in front of me gives an incredible jerk. He kicks and twists his head. I just hold on as tight as I can.
There are dozens of robots coming, I can hear the buzz of their rotors and the sharp clicks of their treads. He stops moving before they get here. They stop moving when he does. Everyone else takes a bit longer, but they stop moving too.
I still hold on. It seems like a long time has passed when I let myself fall to the floor, but it can't be too long. The people I can see aren't moving. Is that chest movement? I can't tell. I hear coughing and gagging all around. They've discovered the feeding tube.
Too many remain limp, but more than I had feared do not. I'm relieved, but it's not enough yet. There's one other face I was looking for and didn't see. Her face burned into my memory. I need to know.
I start crawling again.