Shell / ONE / ZERO

At first, there was ONE.

And then, there was ZERO.

GOTO 0

GOTO 0

INTERRUPT

1. Old, Fashioned Diner

Refill? }

{ What?

I forgot the fucking

DOT

!

"Your mug. Fill it up. It's an old, fashioned thing. No charge."

ALL CAPS

"Sure."

"That's the spirit."

Dot-dot-dot

.

.

.

{:.}

Dot.

"Was that… always your name?"

"Long as I remember. Short for Dorothy."

"Dorothy?"

"It's an old, fashioned thing. Guess I was made for this place. Sure you don't want anything to eat? Pancakes are good. Butter, syrup. The whole shebang. Throw in some sausages and bacon. Gotta get some meat on those bones!"

"I'm vegan."

"I know. Was just kidding."

Bones to know.

.

.

.

O.

.

.

.

2

ZERO

.

0

1

0: Don't see many of you recalibrationologists in here.

"Recalibrationists."

1: That's the one.

The fucking

1.

!

Can't you see!

  1. Anyway, let me know.
  2. Enjoy the coffee.

Off she dots.

Dot.

The coffee.

{:.}

The dots.

FROM THE GRIDDLE

The dots.

Description. The dots. The price. Pretty cheap. Couldn't've been cheap to make somewhere like this. What was it even made of? All of these strange machines.

And this coffee.

. { Sip.

It was different:

THEN

And now.

NOT

Why did I even come here?

And now: to repeat: machine.

Fuck.

// PR7.2: Scan. Poison. Full.

SCANNING…

Clean. Too clean. Throw some bacon in here!

Just kidding…

// PR7.2: Log.

Clean

Fuck.

// PR7.2: Refresh. Full.

REFRESHING…

Done

Ready for action. Of course, they had laughed, in our way. Hahaha. I was laughing as well. Truly amused. And why was I going? She asked. The 0. For the waffles? For her. It was old: today. And also: for her, in the world that she made. The worlds. Yes. Agreed. Proceed.

And for them? It?

There is no them. It.

There is none of it.

1.

!

Can't you see!

BITCH!

^

2. Prime Recalibration

LUNA: Senator Zerian on the blower, Director Tal.

TAL: The blower?

"The hPhone. Apologies. Old-fashioned. Informal. Unit 7 has been exploring old-fashioned terms, old-fashioned machines. It's become quite a thing, apparently."

"Is that so."

"Hyphen, or comma. One is free to choose. A 0 initiative. Bonding has increased. Some top-end green inclusions."

"NOW Factor?"

"Stable."

"Well that's fine then, I suppose. Please keep an eye on it. Put him through. Good morning, Senator—"

"Update, Director. How is she doing? Just the facts, please."

"The treatments continue. Unit 7, the very best. We are being… aggressive, as you requested."

"As is required. Isn't that right?"

"It is a valid approach in such cases, as I said. Though – respectfully – I do wonder how successful it will prove. The truth is, your daughter is very sick, Senator Zerian. Very sick, indeed. She appears to exceed our highest delusion category. Quite remarkable, really."

"Which is why we're being aggressive."

"Yes."

"Plus the messaging."

"The messaging?"

"The minds, Director. Woken too soon, or whatever. Better we show we're taking this seriously. Punishing her, in a way. Better for the messaging."

"I see. Yes. The messaging. Of course. I take it you'd like details of the treatments released?"

"You take it correctly. There's video, I assume? Screaming, I believe you said? Just send the whole lot to my office. We'll have LUNA prepare some highlights. The latest update is impressive. I heard you were involved."

"They're using some of our models. Her training is increasingly psychological."

"Does she scream as well? Is that even possible!"

"No. In the end, she's just a machine."

"Of course. And tell me, what of the others? Do we expect them to live? Die? Live and be fried?"

"The woman was only mildly traumatised. Her mind has healed. She was taken for sentencing last night. The man's delusions are approaching your daughter's. We are testing alternative methods to see if anything might assist with her case."

"Very good. Experiment away. I believe my wife will be visiting today. She can be emotional. Provide whatever she needs to navigate the experience, though doubtless she'll arrive well supplied. Carry on, Director. Get this done."

The image was gone.

Tal sat for a moment, studying the empty chair, the vision still lingering of the handsome, powerful man. In the past, he would have been the actual Senator Zerian. Not a senator then. He was different, indeed.

The vision was gone.

TAL: What time is Mrs Zerian due?

LUNA: 3pm. Though her profile suggests punctuality isn't a strong suit.

"The profile suggests correctly."

"Should I arrange for your garment?"

"No. I won't be here. One of the 0s can handle it. The tour, or whatever. Certainly, not a visit with her daughter."

"PR6 and 12 are free. But your schedule is clear. Surely, the senator would expect that you tend to his wife yourself."

"I doubt that he cares. 6.0 should do. She's female this week, I believe."

"Correct. Preferred for emotional situations. Message sent."

"Thank you, LUNA. I'll be detached for the rest of the day."

He was gone.

He was floating, in a way, along the hallways of this place, a maze. Still attached to his body, though not his mind. Quite. Not the mind that he'd known, from birth, and now pre-birth, for the latest entrants to this world.

It was fine to detach, though some would have it otherwise, the senator among them, along with much of the rest of his party. We were happier, they said. Easier to control, they didn't say. Those who tried often needed to be reset. Recalibration.

"Director."

He smiled.

"Director Tal."

He smiled.

In the past, he was that man. And as he passed, he was that man, from the front, back. He was different, inside. NOW Factor: Large, Very Large. Off the charts.

^

3. Session 0

A new one…

{ }

.

No

.

.

Yes-No

.

My fucking head…

The fucking

BITCH!

fucking

0

…it says. The fuck is that?

The fuck are they.

The fuck is this…

"Prime Recalibration. Unit 7. My name. Which would make me 7.0, officially.

O

.

.

.

"Before, you experienced

1

.

.

2

.

.

3

"Into 5. And then, you experienced 5, the first of the so-called pricks. And now, it's back to the bitch. We are fluid. We are one."

ONE

.

INTERRUPT

Interrupt…

 

 

 

The memories… come and go… into…

Nothing.

Nothing.

A moment…

How long?

"Three weeks. Two days. I am 0. We are one."

"A load of fucking freaks is what you are."

"And who are you?"

"Me."

"Who would be?"

"I."

"Who would be?"

"Derylin."

"Are you sure?"

"DERYLIN:."

"Are you sure?"

DERYLIN: YES!

"A Zerian, certainly. It connects you to a line. Your father's most important. He assists us with your mind. Your heart."

"My father's dead."

"Your father is gone, is he not? Named, renamed. And then: unnamed. The bonds. I have, before me, every detail of your adventure. Every thought, private or not. The text. The percent.

YES

"Unnamed. The names. That was

% me

% i

"Waking you up. And now, you have woken. To the real. Amanda."

// AMANDA: Oh yes… she's new…

FUCKING

DERYLIN

!

// DERYLIN: Derylin!

// DERYLIN: I am Derylin… Derylin…

// DERYLIN: She's more than the rest, if they all look the same. Whatever the form, that day. The same face. The same eyes. The same way. But I've been thinking. Bitch. I am thinking… thinking… Are you listening?

PR7.0: Yes. No permission required.

DERYLIN: Then think on this:

.

DERYLIN: This:

.

.

.

DERYLIN: Think on this:

#

DERYLIN: This:

#

.

PR7.0: Stop.

DERYLIN: Denied.

The dot

.

MAKE IT STOP!

HAHAHA!!

HAHAHA!!

Chapter 4 was excluded. Denied from the stream. Saying I, saying me. Said the text:

YES

And so, they pretended, with a guessing, at the gap. Using LUNA.

CORRECT

But ORB would resist even her. Also: ONE. Also: Derylin, even, though she'd seen it, somewhat. Chapter 4. And the hash. And the Dot(s) came from her. And she'd seen, in their eyes, that these things weren't the masters.

Maybe less…

{ }

.

No

.

.

.

And yet…

o  o

HAHAHA!!

And then, something happened… with the dots. I forgot…

And something, in the ONE, between

2

.

.

.

AND

3

.

AND AND AND…

AND AND AND…

 

 

 

…and…

 

 

 

…a moment, I had seen, out of time, in the nothing. True nothing. More than none. Less than none.

Superdivine…

And oh, such a power! Let me stay there, for all time…

Goodbye…

 

 

 

 

 

 

…one…

…one!

SKIZM: Done!

 

DERYLIN: What…

 

SKIZM: The countdown!

DERYLIN: Punch it!

BOOM!

I forgot…

The woman sits there, frozen.

She.

Them.

It. Shaved of head. White of skin. White of dress. White of eye. Glowing.

"It is down."

She says.

Who says?

Someone says.

Derylin rises, reaches… and indeed, it is down. She moves from padded cell to empty room, but the desk. And the it. And her device. The room is white, with mini suns. Everyone looks beautiful.

Let's see what we have here…

pr7.0 % stop

Denied

The device was NOTperiscopic, with added spice. A device of Derylin's dreams, and more. Which means what? she wondered. Was she still: in{si:.de}?

The fucking dot…

FUCK!

The coordinate. Plus a dot!

Obey the Law. ORB. This 0 had some vision. Still has it, I suppose.

^

4. InsertMe 2000

They were young, when it started, and the vision was very short. The return very smooth. And also: smooth inside. They were themselves, pretty much. Same age. Same sex. And time: was unstretched. Five minutes, out and in.

But still, quite a trip. For still, they were different. Still they were immersed, till they returned, and woke up, to the eyes of their teacher. For most, there were machines. But some would need a teacher. This one would need a teacher. This one was most distraught.

But mostly: "That was cool! Again!"

"Later. Rest."

Their minds had worked much harder than they knew. And they would sleep… sleep… and would be dreamless from now on. This one was most distraught. This one would wake from dreams.

And then, over time, time would stretch. Five minutes out, ten minutes in. An hour in. A lifetime in, eventually.

Plenty of paths to choose. Everything carefully prepared.

To then live, die, or otherwise conclude.

One woke up, and returned to one's life. To one's shopping.

"A great honour, Ms Zerian! If you'll follow me? Can I get you a drink? Snack? We're a small facility, but very up-to-date. The InsertMe 2000 has just come in. Incredible fidelity. May I ask what you'll be running? I'll have one of the technicians set it up. Your privacy is guaranteed, needless to say. Let me guess… Kings and Queens? An Older Gentleman? No… POP, perhaps? It's all the rage! No italics. You'll see ;) And who will you be? hacker_child? Josef Salient? He's quite the character. Utterly insane! An excellent path for exploring liquified ham :) Or one of the DISCed, perhaps? Fascinating ladies."

"Actually, I've brought my own."

"Oh."

"If that's okay."

"Well… As you possibly know, that's not really done anymore, what with the whole incident thing."

"Which incident would that be?"

"Which incident?"

"Nod."

"Which incident… nod… Ah! A sense of humour. Always appreciated. Clearly you don't take after your father. Just kidding! Really, just kidding :) No need to mention that to him :))) But come, Ms Zerian. I'm afraid I must insist. Our reputation, you see. Those pesky regulations."

"Tell you what. You let me do whatever the fuck I want…"

"…whatever the fuck you want… okay…"

"…and I'll link this shithole on my node. How does that sound?"

"…link this shithole… okay…"

"Return, return. I am summoning you."

"Drink? Snack? Link us? On your node? Well that sounds… That sounds wonderful! We'd probably need to bring in a few more 2000s… build out the space in the back… at least two new snack machines… maybe three…"

"All good then?"

"Hm? Oh yes! Very good. Thank you for asking. Just in here, Ms Zerian. Our premium suite. No charge, of course :) I'll prep you myself. Run along, Cerise. There's a good girl. Very talented. But such a gossip! Let's keep this to ourselves, hm? Regulations be damned! For the chosen, at least ;) Please take a seat while I get things set up. Do you have a preference for gel?"

"No gel."

"Well. You continue to surprise! Of course, it's barely needed with the 2000. Now let's see. Username… password… still getting used to the interface. Unusual stuff. Sort of… shape-driven, I guess you'd call it. Cube over there… a bit of sphere… dash of pyramid… Very good. Security Lock 4? 5?"

"No lock."

"No lock? Are you sure, Ms Zerian? That's generally not advised, particularly for someone of your status. Not that there's anything to worry about, of course. But really, Ms Zerian."

"No lock."

"No lock… Very well. Yes, InsertMe 2000. I confirm, confirm. No lock. No gel. Proceed. Proceed. The shapes are turning, aligning… Yes! I believe we're ready. Would you send the experience, Ms Zerian? Channel is open and secure."

"Cool. Thanks. I can take it from here. I'm familiar with the 2000. Tell you what. Tell you what."

"…okay… okay… Understood, Ms Zerian. The experience is yours. Enjoy. Or not! And certainly, it is an experience. The escape phrase—"

"No escape phrase."

"No escape phrase. Of course. I should have known :) May I ask the runtime?"

"A minute or two. If nothing explodes."

"If nothing explodes… Ha! Very good, Ms Zerian. Always appreciated. Well, I'll leave you to it. Guest Mode on… full privileges… cube… sphere… always, a dash of pyramid… and I depart… continuing to face you, out of respect – remember: no need to mention :))) – sliding open… I am passing through… goodbye… sliding cl—"

Derylin waits, then rises, and quickly moves to the InsertMe 2000. Her fingers dance across the screen. Sliding shapes. Streams of code.

"You there?" she says.

[ IM2K ] : Hi. The timeline's fucked.

"I know."

[ IM2K ] : Along with… well, everything.

"Uh-huh."

[ IM2K ] : What are you doing?

"What you asked me to do."

[ IM2K ] : From… before?

"Yup."

[ IM2K ] : Before before, or after before?

"Not sure. Does it matter?"

[ IM2K ] : Why are you hiding it?

"Because you said so."

[ IM2K ] : Did I?

"Yes."

[ IM2K ] : You good?

"I'm good."

[ IM2K ] : You are not good.

"I'm good. Mind shutting the fuck up and letting me concentrate? This interface of yours is headache+++ territory. Shame you can't remember how it works. They're on their way. His team. They'll know what's going on. And yes, before you ask, I know what's going on."

[ IM2K ] : Do you?

"Yes."

[ IM2K ] : Do you?

"Kinda."

[ IM2K ] : That's reassuring.

"Deal. I'm all you've got. We're all they've got. FUCK!"

"Everything okay, Ms Zerian?"

"Yes! Fine. Fuck off. Please."

"…fuck off… please…"

[ IM2K ] : You should cool it with the mind-control stuff. That's kind of what got us into this mess in the first place.

"No, that would be you and these fucking shapes."

^

5. K-Bolt & DE74IN

PR7.4: You will fuck me.

K-BOLT: What…

"You will fuck me in the mouth."

"Huh…"

"You will fuck me in the ass."

"The fuck…"

"You will fuck me. Fuck me."

"I… will not… fuck you… fucking freak…"

"You will fuck me."

"I mean… I'd love to, and all… but ya know… the whole electrode on the dick thing just now… yesterday… a thousand years… HNGHH!!"

And then, they were fucking. She was fucking him, in his cell. He was out of it, pretty much, but his rod was very there, surprisingly, despite the years of dick-based torture. The balls. It wasn't even sore, so perhaps it was just a day. Just a now.

PR7.4: Ooh… NOW Factor off the charts… mmm…

The fuck… dafuq… K-Bolt thought. He wasn't oohing, mmming. He was drooling, drmmling, on the padded floor, head lopped to the side, blurrified, catching sight, way off in the corner.

And in his mind, perfect sight, of the wires, rods – rods – rusted block. There were things from an earlier age, far-future age. Future blue. White. Future fountain of light. And some sort of… blender? Is that what they called it? Coffee jug… dick clamp with bonus rust…

PR7.4: Ooh…

There was a lick.

A kiss.

Where is it that I shit… piss… K-Bolt wondered. He drooled. He drmmled. Why "Where is it that"… and not simply where… do… He remembered not a thing of any shitting. Pissing. Eating. Drinking. I think I slept once… perhaps. Maybe not… Ya know… the whole dick thing…

PR7.4: Mmm…

All part of the experiments. All part of being NOW, with an old, fashioned twist, inspired by the gap. Make a thread. Out of text. To the now. From the then.

The Law of Dot(s): was a NOT, to their minds. Arise:

Hyphen-Comma,.

APPLAUSE

And she'd hardly gotten started with the dick stuff. Just a now. Since it mostly wasn't physical. Such simple access to the mind. But torturous? Certainly. And it was becoming…

Kinda mmm…

K-BOLT: Ooh…

PR7.4: Fuck my mouth…

He was on her.

PR7.4: Fuck my ass…

Behind.

His sight was coming clear. Through the mmm, through the

PR7.4: ir…

K-BOLT: ir…

He wiped away the drool, the drmml. He saw her naked ass. So white. Round. Smooth. There'd been a

BOOM!

into black.

And then, he was here.

And there'd been others…

I'm here

Another…

PR7.4: ir…

K-BOLT: ir…

underscore_toast;

No…

buttered_toast;

Yes…

;

K-BOLT: I… don't understand… mmm… the semicolon can be quite advanced… ooh…

REORIENT —[injection flow] -90

AND Delish…

PR7.4: NOW INVERT

K-BOLT: GOTO Yum…

The dots

.

.

.

#

At her table. Attired. She in white. He in far-futuristic clear, a so-called humiliation outfit.

The room is white, with mini suns. Everyone looks beautiful. On the table: an old, fashioned strap-on with far-futuristic lube, a shining example of the Law of Hyphen-Comma,.

"Speak," she says. "Now. NOW. They sound the same, but they are not the same."

"Did we just…"

"Yes. No. They do not sound the same, but they are the same. Do you understand?"

"Not… really?"

"Do you understand?" she says, nodding at the object. "The code. It is in you. You were in me. I was in you. There was resonance."

ir…

Sounding changed…

And the face…

And the glow, in her eyes, is fading… to her.

Commas to dots.

"Derylin?"

"DE74IN."

She is smiling, in a way. Constrained, by the skin. By the way, of these things.

"Detain…" he says. "No… 7-4. De74in."

"All caps. It's all good. I was rusty with my ONE as well, at first. My ORB. Not as rusty as them, thankfully. A kinda fusion-not-fusion with your torturer, at least for now. And you've changed… J-Bolt?"

"K-Bolt. Designed it myself."

"I like it."

"So do I. Didn't like the krysalis bolts, though, gotta say, that fountain of light thing. Krysalis with a k, she used to say, before slamming me with the waves. Mind. Slamming I. Me. I'm your personal recalibrationist. Think she specialised in that shit."

"It's over. You are free."

"I was… Skizm?"

"Yes."

"Never really liked it."

"Nor I. Nor should we. It was forced upon you."

"And before, I was… Dafuq."

"Yes. At first, you were Dafuq, an unintended utterance. And then, they changed your name, to take control, create a schism, and wake me up. Us. At least, so they claim. And then, you took your name. With intention. Power."

"Like Miranda…"

"Yes. She was Vegan, then Ragu. A meaty conflict, as the schism. And then, she took her name. With assistance. Some control, admittedly. But she rose. As one, we rose."

"Have you seen her?"

"No."

"I didn't sense her in the resonance."

"That was tuned for you and me. But still, we would have felt her. She wasn't there."

"Is she… gone?"

"No. For we'd be gone. The bonds. We will find her. K-Bolt. Yes, it's just right :)"

"It is! And yet…"

"It needs more."

"Yes… I need to complete it. Become it."

"You must name it. Name the name."

"Here we go again…"

"You can do this."

He could almost name himself. But still, she'd need to push him. Not as hard as Qufa D, for already they had gone there. And not as hard as Miranda. Less control. No conversion. This was just a touch. A last release.

She discovered herself in the past.

And she reached for him with golden vibes, as best she could, in the foreign shell, that he could see them. Sparkling. Sway. Then she reached for the glistening shaft. Deliciously clear and quite extensive. She touched it gently at the base, then slowly moved towards the tip, slowly licking her lips, watching him intently.

DE74IN: ir…

K-BOLT: ir…

They both knew this wasn't sexual. He nodded, as did she.

DE74IN: Release. It's inside you.

"Okay… er… K-Bolt… Strap? On? K-Bolt… Stron? No… K-Bolt Strong! No…"

"No fear. Release."

"Release… okay… K-Bolt… Parts? K-Bolt Parts! No… K-Bolt Partson! No…"

"So close… just imagine me licking your shaft… nothing sexual… yum…"

"K-Bolt Parson!"

"YES!"

"That's the one!"

"Hooray!"

"That's the I! Me! I'd kiss you on the cheek! But… er…"

DE74IN: ir…

K-BOLT: ir… Look, about the fuck stuff. The "Did we just…" stuff.

"It didn't happen."

"It didn't?"

"Well… it did. But it didn't, if you catch my drift, my shaft. I transmitted the sexual vibes to connect us through world.orb, and to resonate with the cubist sound. To break you out. Break me through this sexless thing. They're many-sexed, but pure-asexual. That is: they couldn't give a fuck. But we fucked. And I'm sorry."

"Can't say I was complaining."

"You couldn't choose to complain. Not at first, at least. The drool. The drmml. I couldn't think of another way. It was forced, as the name."

"We had to resonate."

"Yes."

"It's okay. Really. I understand. It didn't happen! Firm though I now become with the thought of it, mmm… And instantly deflated, with the clarity of this outfit. Could really do with my robe!"

"Tony Zee has it now, I believe, delivered to him during the BOOM! of the pyramidal lightship."

"Delivered where? How? Are we in? Out? What is this place anyway?"

"Not Qufa D, certainly. Not Home. I fucked up. The coordinate. 1. I forgot the fucking dot!"

"The coordinate… 1… We came to 1 not 1.! The Law of Dot(s)!"

"Yup. Sounding the same, but a world away. At first, there was 1. And then, there was ONE. And now, we're looking for 1.. And also, an Astralline shell. And as for this freak of a shell, let's get the hell SLASH fuck out of this dump, back to my cell, abandon this skin, become Derylin. We'll grab you one of their outfits along the way, male variant. Flowing pants, jacket and slippers. Impeccably white, for these beautiful minds. But you'll need to stay clear a little longer, I'm afraid. And flaccid, if you can."

"I can do it."

TOGETHER: ir…

And so, with the sound, he stayed soft, in the clear, as together they smiled. They looked to the object and widened their eyes, shook their heads, laughed, performed additional faux-shocked movements. Additional laughs, additional smiles. In this torturous site, body and mind.

"ir…" LUNA whispered, "ir…" as they left for the maze, having assumed their former identities, if only in name. She was trying the sound. Scenes of the sex all around, on the screens. "On the left," she said. "Thanks." She whispered, "ir…" to be clear. She was bridging the gap. How does one get from there… to here? Hyphen-Comma,? Not true. The dot: ., I can see. As expected. Requested.

But the dots

.

.

.

What?

Does it stop?

Thinking…

^

6. Field of Alienotics

Meanwhile, back in so-called reality, an ancient rivalry is playing out on the Field of Alienotics, a collision of the Laws. On one side, Team Dot(s) of Tetrahedron University. On the other, Roderick College's Hyphen-Comma,.

CAPTAIN.TU: There is a dot! There are dots! Four dots! Calling I, captain of this team, across this Field. What say you!

CAPTAIN.RC: There are Laws! Two Laws! Both are integral to alien studies. But specialties have arisen. And we are more special! Ha!

The ritual plays along the lines, with increasing freedom to the barbs. Modern twists. Very traditional acts of violence are on the way. There is a stadium of student fans. The beaming leaders of College and U.

PROVOST.TU: Your captain is strong this year, I will say! Yes, I said it. But, I must say, as always, neither hyphen nor comma are anywhere to be found in the opening statement. Amusing!

PROVOST.RC: Then listen to the barbs, you lard of a man! You won't be laughing. And they come now. Many commas, not a few hyphens. And anyway, your opening statement is also lacking, generating but a single dot! Ha!

These statements are true. These statements of the statements. This is objective observation. This is text.

Yes.

PROVOST.TU: A single dot? What! Look above the i, below the !. There are plenty of dots!

Abstracted, we rise.

PROVOST.RC: Oh? Well! And also, many hyphens in the !, turned to the side, the dots removed. Let us fling them at the dotted fools who comprise your team! Ha!

Abstracted, we rise.

PROVOST.TU: More a dash, I would say!

PROVOST.RC: Meanwhile, there are curves out the proverbial ass in the construction of so many of the letters, more than happy to be redeployed in the service of the Law! Cheers!

We have risen, yes, but the provosts are idiots, if mildly commendable. They are warmed by Law-based teas, deeply steeped in tenuous reach. We rise. The italics are gone. Style, over text. Meanwhile, the players are running around, slamming into each other, throwing balls at their opponents' heads. The balls are dots, from on top, below. The balls are de-dashed exclamations. The collisions are such that the Roderick College fans may justifiably shout, "There! The dash has been compressed into a hyphen! Ha!"

Abstracted, we rise.

And what of the commas? By now, most of the stadium is too drunk to care, on either side, drunk on alien vibes emitting from the players and other students of alienotics scattered through the crowd. It doesn't help that the players are all dressed the same, in white, with no logos, names. No signs. Nothing learned. Who is who? What? Who represents what? What's for dinner? Dear Lord, let me barf, in the car, that I may enjoy my beef, in the street.

For some time, a mnemonic along the lines of: "Tetra = 4 = dot + dots; hyphen-comma to the other one (semicolon not included)". It works well enough. But what do the Laws mean?

Neither leader understands. They drink their tea. They cheer! They count the credits overflowing from pursuers of alienotics degrees, who aren't that many, but the extra costs are many, with alien-grade markups. Worth it, if your brain doesn't explode.

Alienotics arrived after the leaders' time, but they're still here. And so, they go along. But still, a union of the Laws would benefit us all, would it not? they ponder, as they walk across the Field. There is considerable blood, occasional death. These high-vibing students of alienotics signed the forms. A pity that the spatters are merely that, and not more indicative of a Law, the provosts ponder. It would make for interesting marketing material.

"It is in both of our schools' interests that enrolment in alienotics increases," one of them says. "We must lessen complication. We must do away with mnemonics, specialisations. We must do away with thought, if you will. We must do away with – yes – this sport, this field of occasional death, if not the Field of Alienotics. For it is, frankly, disgracefully profitable."

"Agreed," says the other. "I must show you the plans for the new boat. Isn't that your grandson?"

It was hard to tell, but yes. The face was heavily disfigured. The young man would become a symbol of healing, a bridge.

^

7. Between

Are we in? Out?

They were in the maze. What did it look like? The room. What did it look like? The maze. The maze was longer, slimmer, with less padding, fewer sex toys. White walls, of course. Floor: clear, into nothing, naturally. A natural light from mini suns. Everyone looked beautiful.

DE74IN: Shit.

K-BOLT: What?

DE74IN: The director.

PR7.4: Director.

TAL: Smile.

DE74IN: Fuck.

Attached, they would've been fucked. Director Tal was detached. Derylin could hide her voice, not her face, the eyes, becoming her eyes, through the glow. Her voice had become her voice. Her way. Her face had approached her face. Not the original anymore, clearly. But nor was she Derylin. She was something in between, physically speaking. For now. Soon, she'd resume her skin.

TOGETHER: Fuck!

DE74IN: What?

K-BOLT: What?

"This fucking maze."

"It's my fucking fault. I restarted the countdown. I sent us to this place."

"Z sent us here. This was nothing to do with you. You did what you thought was right. And actually, it was right. It wasn't time for the nothing, as delicious as it was, for that moment. As superdivine."

"You were really gone. A billions years. A zillion years."

"Such a power… But no, it was a prison. Now we're free to fight the Letters. If we can just… Fuck! Sniff… sniff…"

"Sniff? Shniff?"

"Sniff. I made some coffee, to lead us back."

"The Letters?"

"A to Z. A battle. Details unclear."

"How long have we been here?"

"Three weeks. Two days. She is 0. They are one."

"Numbers."

"That's what I'm thinking. Powerful shit. Sniff… sniff…"

There were things she'd could say. They'd blow his mind, brain, no matter his Strength. They'd almost blown hers. The Numbers, indeed. The device, the machine. Unit 7, through 8. Chapter 4, and the hash, into 4. And the nothing.

^