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Vox Mentis
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
Spoiler :
(05-19-2017, 04:46 AM)Smurfton Wrote: While the butlers were entertaining, a house cannot have more than one. What exactly a butler does varies, but the job title means that they are the chief of all the other manservant, and that they are trusted enough to manage the wine cellar.

Ahh, yeah, unfortunately I neglected my research on butler heirarchy. Ten Poet Points™ to anyone who can come up with a good justification for the butler swarm.

(05-18-2017, 02:11 PM)Schazer Wrote: are these idiots for real

(05-19-2017, 01:37 AM)☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆ Wrote: yeah seriously you can't just play it like, why hello fellow member of the vast shadowy secret conspiracy society, would you please tell me everything you know and your future plans?

that's exactly why you should tell them the whole truth. they'll never believe you

“I do not have the word,” you say. “And if you must know, Virginia Woolf is absolutely alive, in possession of the word, and on her way to kill us all."

Goethe and de Castro narrow their eyes.

"Now, I am terribly sorry, but I will not be able to attend our meeting after all. Something unavoidable has come up.”


(05-19-2017, 09:32 AM)Sai Wrote: If Woolf is coming to you, she's almost certainly bringing the word. Every disaster is an opportunity.

You take a chopper cross-town and set down on the DC office helipad. This occupies thirteen minutes. In the meantime, you attempt to coordinate people via your phone. This proves difficult because every few seconds it wants to tell you about an incoming message, which requires a tap to dismiss, and by the time the building is in sight this is what you are spending the majority of your time doing, tapping to return your phone to a useful state. When a computer server becomes so busy acknowledging incoming requests that it has no time to respond to them, it is called a Denial of Service attack, a DoS. You are being DoSed. You surrender and put your phone away.

Freed from the helicopter, you consider the elevator but opt for the flexibility of stairs. One flight later, you emerge into tastefully muted lighting. Your assistant rises from her desk, mouth opening, full of messages. “Not now, thank you, Frances,” you say, and close the double doors behind you. The lights brighten in response to your presence. This month, your office is a paean to eighteenth-century feudal Japan: paper dividers, low, simple furniture. On the wall behind your desk a samurai sword hangs under lights. You chose none of this; it is periodically redecorated in a random style, to avoid betraying personal aesthetics. You plant yourself behind your desk and tap the keyboard to wake your screens.

Your predecessor hadn’t used a computer. At the time, they had been considered secretarial tools. Hard to imagine now. Your displays fill with red boxes. Now that the computer’s thresholds have triggered, it is vomiting up sightings from days ago, even weeks, made newly plausible by more recent data. A voiceprint from a hotel in Istanbul. A woman with matching facial characteristics in Vancouver. You inspect the picture: sunglasses, hat, nothing you would bet on, but the computer likes the cheekbones. A taxicab security photo, grainy and desaturated, from a route that corresponds with what the computer is figuring out about Woolf’s movements. That was Seattle, yesterday. The notification boxes are a moving stream but you manage to snag one with a recent time stamp. It is from the building’s security system. Its confidence level is ninety-nine percent. Woolf is outside, right now.

Your office has a balcony. You are mildly tempted to go out and peer over the railing, see if you can pick her out. But that would be risky. That is, possibly, what Woolf wants you to do. There could be a sniping issue. The fact is, as much as you believed you understand Woolf, she has been missing for a year and you have no idea how she has changed.

Your phone chimes. You feel rising excitement and wait until it is gone. “Yes?”

“I’m so terribly sorry. But there are so many people who wish to speak to you, and they’re saying quite alarming things.”

“Is one of those people Frost?” The poet responsible for building security. You spoke to him from the chopper, in between phone notifications, and asked him to execute certain important, long-planned orders. Specifically, Frost is to fill the lobby with Environmentally Quarantined Personnel, men and women with black suits and guns who see the world through a computer-filtered display and hear nothing but white-listed words. These proved insufficient to retrieve the word from Broken Hill - the teams sent in had rather spectacularly killed each other - but that means nothing, because you deliberately engineered it. You are fairly confident that they can stop Woolf.

“No, I haven’t heard from Frost.”

“I’ll speak to Frost,”
you say. “No one else.” You close the speaker. Red boxes continue to slide down your monitors. You see the word LOBBY. You lean back in your chair.

So she’s entered the building. If all is proceeding as you instructed, Woolf will currently be on the floor, her hands bound in plastic, electrical tape being spread across her mouth. She will be lifted up and borne to a windowless cell. Then Frost will call.

You fold your hands and wait. A new red box slides up your screen. POI POSSIBLE SIGHTING: WOOLF, VIRGINIA. SECOND FLOOR. You look at this awhile, trying to imagine circumstances in which Security might have decided to take Woolf up rather than down. You reach for the speaker. By the time you get the handset to your ear, a new notification has arrived. THIRD FLOOR. Is there a delay on these? A few seconds? It has never mattered before.

“Frances, would you mind putting the floor into lockdown?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And please attempt to reach Frost.”

“Right away.”

Your screen blanks. The lights go out. Part of the lockdown. Nothing to be concerned about. You wait. Your breathing is steady. You feel no emotion. Minutes pass. The lights come on.

You press for the speaker. “Frances, why has the lockdown lifted?”

“I don’t know. I’m finding out.”

Noise in the background. Quite loud; you can almost feel its low echoes through the door. “Who else is there?”

“It’s... how can I help you?”

A female voice speaks. Indistinct; you can’t identify it. The phone clicks off. You slowly put it down.

You recognized Woolf’s natural aptitude for attack very early on. It would have been disappointing if she fell to Frost and the soldiers. You would have missed your chance to test yourself. Of course, there is the real possibility that she is about to walk in here and destroy you. That is a concern.

These are feelings. You don’t need them. You will prevail or you will not.

You steady your breathing and begin to pray. O God, be with me and guide my hand. Let me transcend this petty flesh and become Your holy instrument. Warmth spreads through your body. Your relationship with God is your greatest resource. It has allowed you to become who you are. So many promising colleagues have fallen to temptation. They managed their physiological needs, eating and breathing and fucking deliberately and on schedule, taking care to remain in control at all times, but their social needs - their basic human desire to love, to belong, and be loved - these were simply suppressed, because there was no safe way to indulge them. And yet they are named needs for a reason. The human animal craves intimacy at a biological level, relentlessly, insistent. You've seen many promising careers derailed by surrenders to intimacy: people who whispered confessions to whores, people whose minds lingered on having children. On such small betrayals are psyches unraveled. You have unraveled several yourself.

You had struggled in your early years. It seems vaguely amusing now. Infantile. But you remember the loneliness. The way your body reacted when a woman smiled at you, the surge of desire it evoked to join with her, not merely in a physical sense but beyond that, to confide and be understood. It had been almost overwhelming. Then you discovered God.

It had been terribly alarming. The very idea, a poet succumbing to religion! You were shocked at yourself. But the feeling was undeniable and grew week by week. You could no longer believe you were alone. You began to see the divine in everything, from the circumvoluted fall of a leaf to the fortuitous arrival of an elevator. Occasionally, when the sterility of your job pressed close, you felt the presence of God like a figure in the room. God was with you. God loved you. It was ridiculous, but there it was.

It was a tumor, of course. Oligodendroglioma, a cancerous growth in an area associated with feelings of enlightenment. The feelings it aroused could be reproduced through electrical stimulation. It wasn’t fatal, but it would need to be removed, your surgeon told you, as you looked over the black-and-white scans, because it would continue to grow. Over time, there would be less and less of you and more of the tumor. Your brain was being eaten by God.

You left the clinic in fine spirits. You had no intention of removing the tumor. It was the perfect solution to your dilemma: how to feed your body’s desire for intimacy. You were - are - delusional, of course. There is no higher presence filling you with love, connecting you to all things. It only feels that way. But that is fine. That is ideal. You would not trust a God outside your head.


The door opens and a woman steps through. She is wearing a long white coat that reaches the floor. The hem is spattered black with liquid that might be mud or dirt or might be Frost. She has white gloves. A necklace, something on it that twists and hurts to look at. You close your eyes. You reach into your diaphragm for your strongest voice.Vartix ventor mannit wissik! Do not move!”

There is silence. “Ow,” says Woolf. “That kind of hurt.”

You grope for your desk drawer.

“Credit to you, Thoreau. I spent a long time preparing for you to say those words. And I still felt them.”

You get the drawer open. Your fingers close on a gun. You raise it and squeeze the trigger. You keep firing until the clip is empty. Then you drop it to the carpet and listen.

“Still here.”

There is a sword on the wall behind you. Three hundred years old, but it can cut. You have no training. But that might not matter, if she comes close enough. She might think it is decorative, until too late.

“So I’m here to kill you,” she says, “just in case there was any doubt.”

You breathe. You require a few moments to calm yourself. “Elise.”

“Woolf,” she says. “Woolf, now.”

Interesting. Has she changed sets? It is possible. She might not have merely improved her defense but managed to alter her base personality in certain important ways. It can be done, with practice. In which case, she would be vulnerable to a different set of words. Yes. She would have rejected her previous self in order to distance herself from what she had done in Broken Hill. You need to figure out what she has become. “How did you get here?”

“Walked, mostly.”

“The lobby was supposed to contain a fairly overwhelming number of security personnel.”

“The goggle guys? Yeah. They’re screened somehow, right? Filtered against compromise.”

“They are supposed to be.”

“They are. But Frost isn’t.”

“Ah,” you say. “So there were no 'goggle guys'.”


Difficult to read a person you can’t see. The visual cues are so important. But it can be done. You can do it. The important thing is that she is still talking. “I gather you feel wronged by me?”

“You could say that.”

“Well,” you say. “I won’t demean us both by pretending to apologize. But may I point out that killing me will not serve your interests?”

“Actually, I disagree with you there. I mean, I thought about it. Come here with the word, make you run the Organization for me; that would be interesting. And I can’t deny there is a real appeal in turning you into my slave for life. But that’s not an option. I have a little problem, you see. I picked it up in Broken Hill, when you sent me to deploy that kill order. I kind of looked at it. I caught a reflection. It wasn’t enough to compromise me. Not completely. It was backward, you know. And not very clear. But I think a piece of it got in there. I call it my star. That’s what it feels like. A star in my eye. It’s not very nice, Thoreau. It wants me to do bad things. But I figured out a way to control it. I just need to concentrate on killing you. When I do that, the star isn’t so bad. I don’t feel like I need to hurt anyone else. So you see, you dying is kind of a non-negotiable at this point.”

You are fascinated. This part you did not know. “Then what?”

“Excuse me?”

“After you murder me. What then?”

“That’s not really any of your concern.”

“I suppose not,” you say. “Very well. We will save that for later.”

“But there’s not going to be a later, Thoreau. Not for you.”

“Mmm,” you say. You have narrowed her down to a dozen or so sets. You are mildly tempted to run through words for them all, which you can do in about fifteen seconds. That is a last-resort kind of move, though. It would spark an immediate response from her, of whatever kind. You will keep that in your back pocket while you attempt to learn more. “Before we proceed, I feel I must confess something.”

“Oh?” You hear her coat scuff the carpet.

“You are here because of me. There is no part of these events I have not engineered. The most difficult part of the exercise, in fact, was finding excuses as to why I left the bareword in Broken Hill for so long. To be honest, I expected you to move faster. It was becoming untenable. But here you are. Bringing the word back to me, filled with vengeance, according to plan.”

“Really?” she says. “I have to tell you, from where I’m standing, that looks like a really shitty plan.”

“When I came to Broken Hill in the midst of its immolation, I found myself moved. I felt desire. I realized then the danger of the bareword. It would have corrupted me. It would have been my undoing, as unearned power always is, sooner or later. And I have no intention of wasting this life on temporary greatness. What I will do with the word once I’ve taken it from you is leave a mark on this world that will never be erased.”

“You’re not making a hell of a lot of sense, Thoreau.”

You shrug slightly. “Perhaps my motives are beyond your comprehension. But I wish you to know that I do not require words to make you perform my will. You are my puppet regardless. You stand here not because you willed it but because I did. Because defeating the bareword in your hands is the challenge I set myself to prove that I am ready to wield it.”

“Dude, I’m going to kill you,” she says. “I’ve walked through every defense you have. There’s no doubt about that.”

You rise from your chair and spread your arms. You begin to increase your breathing, although she shouldn’t notice that. Set seventy-seven. You are sure of it. It is 220 with more fear and self-doubt. Often paired in families, interestingly: a 220 elder child and a seventy-seven younger sibling. It is plausible that Woolf might slide from one to the other. “Here I am,” you say. “Kill me.”

You hear her approach. There are two wide chairs opposite your desk, reducing the possible space she is occupying to a relatively small cuboid. Close enough to slice a sword through, if you are quick.

“You have no idea how much I want this, Thoreau. I know it’s bad form to say that. That I want. But I do. I want it so much.”

You can hear her breathing. Very close now. You could probably reach across the desk and touch her. You pull air into lungs, preparing to speak the words that will make her yours.

“Hey,” she says. “What’s that word? When the Japanese guys did something bad they’d atone by gutting themselves? You know? Disembowel themselves? What’s that called?”

You don’t answer.

“Seppuku,” she says. “I think that’s it.”

Doubt enters your mind. She is a seventy-seven, yes?

“I’ve been planning this awhile, Thoreau. Consider that.”

You consider. “Linnak torsef sahallin laide!” You turn. Your hands close on wood. You draw the blade from the scabbard. “Scream!” This is to locate her. To provide a signal that you have analyzed her correctly. You lunge across the desk and swipe the blade horizontally. It cuts nothing but air, and you overbalance.

“Not even close,” she says, from somewhere near the doorway.

You steady yourself, bringing up the blade. How foolish. You are disappointed in yourself. It was that garbage about her name: Woolf, now. The purest bullshit, and you had bought it. She is Elise, of course. She always will be.
You move around the desk toward the sound of her voice, holding the blade flat, prepared for a stroke. You think you hear something and jab speculatively. You turn in a slow half circle.

“This way,” she says from the corridor.

You feel your way to the doorway. In the corridor are strange whisperings. The vents? You feel surrounded. She has plans for you, apparently.

“There are people here.” Her voice floats ahead of you. “Just so you know.”

You take two steps and stumble over a chair. You feel the toe of your right shoe bend in a way that suggests a permanent crease and feel grief.

“So I have a proposition for you, Thoreau. You can open your eyes, look at this thing I’ve got around my neck, and follow my instructions to disembowel yourself. This way, nobody gets killed but you. Or you can stand there swinging that oversized butter knife while I send your own people against you. What do you say?”

You run at her. Someone grabs your arms. You slash the blade at your aggressor and there is a gasp and the hands fall back. You thrust the sword out again and feel it puncture something. Weight pulls at the blade and you retreat before you can lose it. Something thumps against the carpet.

“Congratulations,” Woolf says. “You killed your secretary.”

You swivel toward her voice, panting. The corridor is full of people. You can sense them. They are standing silently, waiting for your approach. To reach her you will need to kill them all.

“So, no surprise,” she says. “I don’t know what I was expecting.”

She is still a 220. She has practiced her defense. But you can find a way in. There is always something. A hidden desire or secret shame. With that, you can unravel her.

You explore air with the sword tip. “You were never going to be one of us. Eliot thought you could learn to discipline yourself. But the idea was laughable. You could never learn to discipline your excesses.”

“I don’t know, Thoreau. You may not be giving me enough credit there.”

You swivel toward her voice. “Do you really think you can hide your mind from me?” You swing the blade. The tip glances against something and you scramble forward, slipping and sliding, get the blade into something, and push.

“Yecck,” says Elise. “That was Frost.”

Perhaps she is unsettled by violence. Vartix ventor mannit wissik! Scream!”

There is a pause. No screaming. “So you figured out I haven’t really changed. Congratulations. Not going to help you.”

“I can practically feel your emotions,” you say. “You radiate them. Tell me something, Elise. Why do you want me dead so much?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“I think it’s because you need to blame me. You need to believe that what you did in Broken Hill was my fault.”

“It was.”

“But a part of you knows the truth. That if you had tried harder, you could have stopped it.”

“Goddamn it, Thoreau. You’re persistent. I’ll give you that. But I didn’t come here to listen to this. I was going to make you apologize of your own free will, but you know what, screw it. Open your fucking eyes.”

“You tell yourself you had no choice but you don’t believe it. That is why you desire me dead. You hope to kill a part of yourself.”

“Grab him,” she says, to whom, you don’t know. “Hold him down. Force open his eyes.”

You raise the sword. “Who killed that boy at the Academy? Was that me? He was the first to pay for the mistake of loving you with his life. But not the last.” Hands pluck at you. You flail with the sword. “Did I make you a killer, or were you already?”

“Shut up!”

Vartix ventor mannit wissik! You killed your lover! Scream!” Hands grip you. Vartix ventor mannit wissik!, you deserve to be punished, you deserve to die for what you did! Vartix ventor mannit wissik!, scream, you evil bitch!”

A weight of bodies bear you to the ground. Fingers grope at your face. Above this, a thin sound: a keening wail, like escaping steam.

Vartix ventor mannit wissik,” you say. “Elise, lie down and sleep!”

Your eyelids are dragged up. You see faces you recognize, their expressions intent and focused. You know their sets but nothing you can say will dissuade them from holding you down. You can work around that. You can convince them to release you once their duty is done. Because between the seething bodies, you see a prone figure, sprawled on the carpet, her white coat gently rising and falling. Your heart sings, because it is over, and you have won.


You go to the eighth floor, where burly men in gray uniforms are pulling up the carpet. “What the fuck?”

“Ah, Eliot,” says Thoreau. He has a white cloth and is mopping sweat from the back of his neck. His shirt is wet beneath the armpits. You've never seen Thoreau so much as breathing quickly, so this is disconcerting. “We had a little disturbance.”

“The delegates have scattered. They thought you were about to bomb the place.”

“Really?” says Thoreau. “It’s a children’s charity.”

You back out of the way of a man carrying carpet. The walls are lightly spattered. Fine dark droplets like mist. “I’m asking you,” you say, “what the fuck?”

“Woolf came back.”

You say nothing, because surely this is a joke.

“Look,” Thoreau says, indicating a dark patch on the carpet. “That’s Frost.”

“I told you she wasn’t dead.”

“Yes, you did.”

“I asked for more time. Christ, she killed Frost?”

“Essentially,” says Thoreau. “A few others, too.”

“How did she do that?” Thoreau continues patting his neck with the cloth. There is something odd in his manner, a kind of satisfaction, which you don’t understand. Maintenance workers come forward, wanting to get at the carpet on which you're standing. “Get out,” you say. “All of you.”

The men look questioningly at Thoreau, who doesn’t respond. The men slink away, leaving the aroma of cigarettes and carpet glue.

“Did she have it?”


“She had the word.”

“Just as you predicted,” Thoreau says. “I should have listened to you.”

“Where is she?”

Thoreau says nothing.

“Did you kill her?”

“Fascinating, your priorities,” says Thoreau. “I tell you that the bareword has returned to us and your first question is about her.”

“I have a lot of questions. They’re not necessarily ordered.”

“Ah, Eliot. As I have grown, you have shrunk. I offered to help you after Broken Hill. I gave you a chance to go away and find the man you are supposed to be. But no. You chose to stay. You wanted to pursue her. You actually said those words: you wanted. To make amends for failing to stop her, to beg forgiveness for failing to protect her, I honestly don’t know. I doubt that you do. But what is plain is that she broke you. A sixteen-year-old girl and you let yourself care for her. It was clear from the beginning, but what was a weakness became nothing less than a psychological disintegration. Look at you. You are an echo of who you were.”

“Well,” you say. “How refreshing to have an honest opinion.”

“I have faced the word and won. This is what I have done while you were falling into yourself. The day I realized the bareword could corrupt me, I began to prepare myself to face it. That is why I left the word in Broken Hill, for her to recover.”

“You what?”

“I have no intention of triggering another Babel event. I have worked rather too hard for that. It was only by proving myself worthy of the word that I could trust myself to resist its temptations. And I wish to wield it for such a long time. The thing that I find disappointing about empires, Eliot, is they are so transient. On reflection, it seems that real power would be not to merely rule the world but to mark it.” He shrugs. “Perhaps that’s just me.”

“You’ve become fucking incomprehensible. Woolf could have killed us all.”

He shrugs. “She didn’t.”

“She could have.”

“She set it into a necklace. In order to keep it close, I suppose.” Thoreau reaches into his jacket pocket. You shift your gaze away. “I have it wrapped, Eliot.”

You look. Whatever it is lies beneath a white cloth.

“That you think I need a bareword to compromise you is adorable,” Thoreau says. “Eliot, in your present state, I would barely need words.”

“Where is Woolf?”

“Downstairs. Confined. Sleeping.”

“What are you going to do with her?”

“You know that. Eliot. It is time to let go of Woolf. Let me help you.”

You say nothing.

“She is a mass murderer. She killed eighteen thousand people. In the process of which, incidentally, she managed to inflict the word on herself. Caught a reflection in Broken Hill. An accident, I believe. But she is now under instruction to, and I quote, ‘kill everyone.’ How far below the surface that lurks, we can only guess. She has been attempting to resist it by channeling her thoughts toward me. But it is a part of her. It will never go away. She is irredeemable, Eliot. She always was. Accept this. And please do it quickly, because I have a job for you in Syria.”

“I am not going to help you rule the world.”

“Yes, you are.”

“You don’t know me as well as you think.”

“Eliot,” says Thoreau, “if that were true, you wouldn’t need to say it.”


You wake and feel for the necklace and it's gone. The world is yellowish. It is six feet by eight. It has a padded bench seat, which you guess doubles as a bed, and carpet you recognize. A thick gray door with a small window in it, obscured by something on the other side. You are in your underwear. Your head feels bruised. No, not your head. Something deeper than that. You sit up. You put a hand to your forehead and close your eyes a moment, because things are very, very bad.

Time passes. You stand. You pace. You grow thirsty. You discover a plastic bucket under the bed-seat, which you guess is for pee. You spend some time breaking off a long, triangular shard, and tuck this into the rear waistband of your underpants. When you position the bucket right, you can’t tell. It seems to you that this room isn’t monitored. Maybe it's unnecessary, when you have a person in a six-by-eight cell with nothing but a bucket. But if you get out of here because the organization isn’t monitoring you, that is going to be really hilarious.
These are positive thoughts. You're not actually getting out. You're just keeping busy until Thoreau turns up.


Someone does come, but not Thoreau. At first, you don’t recognize him. He's cut his hair. It's been eight or nine years. But his eyes are the same, and you haven’t forgotten the way they bulged in that fast food restaurant bathroom, when he’d tried to coerce you into a blow job.

You throw out some words, just in case. “Please,” says Lee. The door closes. You catch a glimpse of people out there, who would prove to be obstacles to any attempted flight. Lee gets down on his haunches. It's kind of an odd pose, but it brings his eyes level with yours as you sit on the bench seat. Your skin puckers. You feel the urge to fold your arms, but don’t, because you don’t want to give him anything.

“We write reports, you know,” Lee says. He looks odd, sickly, but that's probably the yellow lights. “When we recruit someone, we send along a little write-up, saying what we think. Yours... well, yours was negative, Elise. I won’t lie. It was extremely negative. I know what you’re thinking: I gave you a bad report because you kicked me in the balls. No. I put that aside, like the professional I am. I gave you a bad report, Elise, because you were actually going to do what I asked. It was a simple test. I used weak words. Starter words. And still you were going to do it. You’re fragile. You have no defense. And people like that don’t last in the organization.” He spreads his hands. “Imagine my surprise when the Academy accepted you. It makes sense now. Now I know you cheated your way in. Eliot taking pity on you. Now, I understand. But at the time, I was amazed. And then they made you Woolf... I took it personally. I don’t mind admitting it. It felt like an insult. I mean, my report was very clear. Candidate shows no aptitude for mental discipline nor the inclination to develop it. Those were my words. Well, look at you now. Just like I predicted. And you know what? How it’s turned out is actually pretty good for me. Now I look like a genius. It took awhile but I finally made it to DC.”

He pauses, as if for a response, but you don’t give him one because you haven’t figured out why he's here. He sighs and straightens, plucking at his pant creases. You aren’t thrilled with the new eyeline.

“So,” Lee says, “as you might have guessed, you’re going to die soon. In fact, as I understand it, the only reason you’re still here is Thoreau has become too busy with a new project to get around to debriefing you yet. When I say debriefing, I mean compromising you and getting you to dump out the contents of your brain, in case there’s anything in there that might be useful to us. Now, this is going to happen. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. But my idea, Elise, was to spare Thoreau some trouble. You see, my being here is a very big opportunity for me. A test, you might say. And if I’m able to go back to Thoreau with the information he wants, well, that would be good.”

He removes his jacket and begins to roll up his shirtsleeves. “Why am I telling you this, since clearly you have no interest in doing what I want? I’ll tell you. It’s because, Elise, I want you to understand how extremely, intensely motivated I am right now.”

You say, “Uh, Lee? The idea that you can compromise me is laughable.”

“Oh, I realize you’re not sixteen anymore. I’m not expecting it to be that easy again. In fact, I hear you’ve been working on your defense pretty hard.” He begins to unbuckle his belt. “The thing is, El, I think, deep down, you’re just the same. I think you’re fragile. You subscribed to the idea that the best defense is a good offense, and it’s served you well, sure, but... here we are.” He pulls his belt free and begins to wind the strap around one hand. “I think once we test that defense, I mean, really put some pressure on it... we might see some cracks. I’m pretty confident about that. Because once a person is under severe physical stress, a lot of the higher brain function falls away. The critical thinking. The learned behaviors.” He taps his forehead. “What am I saying? You know all this. You were in school more recently than me. You know what I’m talking about. And you know I’m not leaving this room without getting what I want. The only question is how hard you’re going to make it.” He lets the belt buckle dangle from his fist. “So,” he says, “how are we doing this?”
05-19-2017, 06:13 PM
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Dragon Fogel
 RE: Vox Mentis
The Goddamn Pacman

Posts: 8,651
Joined: Jul 2011
Let's be honest about what's really going on here.

Thoreau had to yell your words over and over again while going directly after emotional weak points. There's no way Lee is remotely on Thoreau's level. Despite his confidence, he can't compromise you, not on any reasonable timeframe at least.

He's a pawn. He's here to unsettle you through your personal connection. There isn't the slightest chance he'll persuade you, not after what you've already been through - but Thoreau, the sick bastard, wants you to remember what happened in that restroom back when you were sixteen.

And why is Thoreau doing this? Because he's afraid. Because he's not ready for a rematch, not after how close you came. Lee is here for one reason and one reason only - to soften you up emotionally so Thoreau stands a chance.

How pathetic. Destroy him.
05-19-2017, 06:57 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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Okay you have this pretty sharp plastic shard which probably would work as severe physical stress so let's test his theory?

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Tale of a small lizard, crime, and weird biology!
05-19-2017, 07:24 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
Comander obviou's

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(05-19-2017, 06:57 PM)Dragon Fogel Wrote: Let's be honest about what's really going on here.

Thoreau had to yell your words over and over again while going directly after emotional weak points. There's no way Lee is remotely on Thoreau's level. Despite his confidence, he can't compromise you, not on any reasonable timeframe at least.

He's a pawn. He's here to unsettle you through your personal connection. There isn't the slightest chance he'll persuade you, not after what you've already been through - but Thoreau, the sick bastard, wants you to remember what happened in that restroom back when you were sixteen.

And why is Thoreau doing this? Because he's afraid. Because he's not ready for a rematch, not after how close you came. Lee is here for one reason and one reason only - to soften you up emotionally so Thoreau stands a chance.

How pathetic. Destroy him.

Slowly. Make him your slave.
(This post was last modified: 05-19-2017, 09:56 PM by a52.)
05-19-2017, 09:55 PM
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☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆
 RE: Vox Mentis
i'm rad as hell, and i'm not gonna take it anymore

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kill him
05-20-2017, 12:17 AM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
that escalated quickly

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Sunshine, Lollipops and Diabetes
Make him suck his own dick.
05-20-2017, 03:46 AM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
Comander obviou's

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(05-20-2017, 03:46 AM)AgentBlue Wrote: Make him suck his own dick.

05-20-2017, 04:09 AM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
Please explain

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I have the power of god
(05-20-2017, 12:17 AM)☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆ Wrote: kill him

(05-20-2017, 03:46 AM)AgentBlue Wrote: Make him suck his own dick.

Kill him with his own dick.

[Image: 933hfLL.png][Image: aCQpT7Z.png][Image: iRoHjKM.png]
05-20-2017, 09:55 AM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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Quote: Ahh, yeah, unfortunately I neglected my research on butler heirarchy. Ten Poet Points™ to anyone who can come up with a good justification for the butler swarm.

there is a butler from each represented language group

also oh my goodness i just caught up and ur story is amazing! ty!
(This post was last modified: 05-21-2017, 08:44 AM by asciiheart.)
05-21-2017, 08:03 AM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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Spoiler :
(05-21-2017, 08:03 AM)asciiheart Wrote:
Quote: Ahh, yeah, unfortunately I neglected my research on butler heirarchy. Ten Poet Points™ to anyone who can come up with a good justification for the butler swarm.

there is a butler from each represented language group

also oh my goodness i just caught up and ur story is amazing! ty!

+10 Poet Points!

Thanks for reading! :)

(05-19-2017, 06:57 PM)Dragon Fogel Wrote: Let's be honest about what's really going on here.

Thoreau had to yell your words over and over again while going directly after emotional weak points. There's no way Lee is remotely on Thoreau's level. Despite his confidence, he can't compromise you, not on any reasonable timeframe at least.

He's a pawn. He's here to unsettle you through your personal connection. There isn't the slightest chance he'll persuade you, not after what you've already been through - but Thoreau, the sick bastard, wants you to remember what happened in that restroom back when you were sixteen.

And why is Thoreau doing this? Because he's afraid. Because he's not ready for a rematch, not after how close you came. Lee is here for one reason and one reason only - to soften you up emotionally so Thoreau stands a chance.

How pathetic. Destroy him.

(05-19-2017, 09:55 PM)a52 Wrote: Slowly. Make him your slave.

(05-19-2017, 07:24 PM)tronn Wrote: Okay you have this pretty sharp plastic shard which probably would work as severe physical stress so let's test his theory?

(05-20-2017, 12:17 AM)☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆ Wrote: kill him

(05-20-2017, 03:46 AM)AgentBlue Wrote: Make him suck his own dick.

(05-20-2017, 04:09 AM)a52 Wrote: Definitely.

(05-20-2017, 09:55 AM)bigro Wrote: Kill him with his own dick.


Two large men come in, wearing white uniforms that you recognize from Labs. They approach you with their hands out like claws. By this time, you're in a pretty crazy place, screaming and waving the bucket-knife around, spattered with blood from head to toe. Lee is lying on the floor, quietly pumping out his life through his throat and his crotch, severed genitalia in his mouth. You swipe at one of the orderlies, shrieking semi-random words, but he catches your wrist and wraps his arms around you. They twist your hands and force the bucket-knife from your fingers and hold you down for what feels like hours. Some other people take Lee away. That's the last time anyone visits you who isn’t Thoreau.


You pick Lee’s blood off you flake by flake. It dried hard, so this way you are able to clean yourself one piece at a time. Maybe clean is the wrong word. It's pretty disgusting, but you keep at it, because the alternative is worse. Every flake of Lee that you remove makes you feel better.

Days pass. It feels like days. You become extremely thirsty. After enough of that, you develop a tremble that won’t go away. Your bowels and bladder shut down. You can feel them inside you like stones. You're being tortured, you assume. Your physical needs are being deliberately left unmet.

You think about Eliot. About whether he knows you're here. You figure no, because if he did, he would have shown up. You just have that feeling. Of course, you had left him facedown in a ditch in Broken Hill, and it would make complete sense if Eliot hates you with a fiery passion. But you have the idea that the kind of relationship you have with him allows for mistakes, even big ones. And that when this door next opens, it won’t be Thoreau but Eliot, and his eyes will be full of reproach but there will also be forgiveness and hope.

You consider removing your underwear, which are spattered with dark brown Lee spots and make you feel permanently stained. It might even be intimidating to Thoreau. Nothing here but Elise, pal. But you don’t do it. You aren’t that badass. You make yourself climb off the bed every now and again and jump on the spot, or at least bounce up and down. So you aren’t just lying there. The light never goes off. You can’t tell how much time is passing. Your thoughts go around and around. Sometimes you catch yourself singing.


You swing the car into the school driveway and crawl up to the house. It's late, most of the windows dark, but not Austen’s. You sit in the car for a few moments. Then you climb out and go inside.

The corridors are empty. It's been a while since you were last here and the place feels unfamiliar, although nothing is different. You enter the East Wing and pass a boy with a white ribbon tied around his wrist and dark bruises beneath his eyes, reciting something in Latin. The boy sees you and breaks off, then looks pained. You do not stop.

You knock on Austen’s door. She calls for you to enter in the imperious voice she adopts for students and you step inside. She is behind her desk, surrounded by papers, her hair pinned up but threatening escape. She sets down a pen and leans back in her chair. “What fortuitous timing. I was about to start grading papers.” She gestures. “Will you sit?”

“I’m going to Syria.”

“Oh,” she says. “When?”

“Now. Tonight.”

She nods. “You should try to visit the museum in Damascus. They have a tablet with the world’s oldest recorded linear alphabet. It’s quite humbling.”

“I want you to come with me.”

She becomes very still. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

You look around the room. “Do you remember the watch I had? The digital one, to wake me so that I could get back to my room before dawn. I was terrified of it failing. Or sleeping through it.”

“Eliot. Please.”

“Atwood knew,” you say. “She told me as much, many years later.”

“Please,” says Austen.

“We thought we were being clever. Carrying on under their noses. And when... when we had to stop, we thought we did that in secret, too. We did it because we were terrified of being discovered. But they knew.”

Her eyes glimmer. “Why are you saying these things? Are you here to compromise me?”

“No,” you say. “God, no.”

“Then stop talking.”

“They persuaded us. Without saying a word.”

“There was no alternative, Eliot.”

“I don’t believe that anymore. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“It’s the truth.”

“I have this idea that it would have been a girl,” you say. “I don’t know why. But I’ve thought that for a while. I find it hard to shake.”

Austen puts her face in her hands. “Stop talking.”

“She’d be grown now. A young woman.”


“I’m sorry.” You catch yourself. “I’m sorry.”

“I want you to leave.”

You nod. You hesitate, almost apologize again, then move to the door. Before you close it, you glance back, in case she’s looked up from her hands. But she hasn’t.


You land in Damascus. Heat envelops you the instant you step over the threshold of the airplane, a taste of Australia with a different scent. You make your way across the tarmac to the airport proper and submit yourself to the impatient eyes of various mustachioed officials. Your papers are impeccable and so you are soon released into the main hall, which is large, framed with high, latticed keyhole-shaped windows, and even vaguely air-conditioned. A short man in a tight suit stands gripping a sign that reads:

السيد إليوت

“I’m Eliot,” you say. “You are Hossein?”

The man nods, extending his hand in the Western manner.

“علياتز حش عم نت,” you say. The man’s hand drops. His face relaxes. “My plane is delayed,” you say. “It is due in ten hours. You will wait here for it and that is what you will believe.” You can see the exit. There is no shortage of drivers on the pavement outside. “And when Thoreau asks you what happened,” you say, “tell him I retired.”


Someone enters the room. You squeeze shut your eyes as soon as you realize, so are left with only the briefest impression: a square man in a dark suit, silver hair.

“Hello, Elise,” Thoreau says.

You sit up. Your brain feels soft. Lee was right: It's harder to marshal mental defenses while under physiological stress. You need to think clearly but all you want is a sandwich.

“Lee is dead. You assumed, perhaps. But in case you were wondering about the possibility of last-minute medical heroics... no. He died. Another for your collection.”

“I’ll stop at one more.”

“No,” Thoreau says. “You won’t. I think we both understand this. You are infected with a murderous impulse. You’ve managed to ameliorate this so far by plotting my demise. If you actually succeeded... well, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it? Since you would inevitably begin to, well, kill everyone. I think you must realize this. You must plan to kill me. But you must not do it. Quite the conundrum.”

You wonder how quickly you can get off the bed and get your hands around Thoreau’s throat. Probably not very fast. Probably to no great effect, even if you do. You need to be smarter. This is your chance; you will not get him alone again. You need your head to stop pounding.

“Was this a suicide mission? I don’t think so. It goes against your character. I think you came here with a plan to kill me and the vaguest hope that you would somehow be redeemed. For you are such an immediate girl. You live from opportunity to opportunity. Does that sound right?”

Maybe, you think. You don’t know. You're hungry. You wonder where Eliot is.

“I’m founding a religion,” says Thoreau. “I use the term religion loosely. But then, so does everyone. It’s rather a lot of work, even with the bareword, and once it’s done, that’s only the first step. So I won’t waste any further time. Here’s what’s going to happen. You will open your eyes. You will look at the bareword. I will say, Forever serve my interests.” He looms closer, a shape you can’t quite bring into focus. “I see from your expression that this is unexpected. You thought you would be killed. A natural assumption. But what I realized, Elise, is that you have made yourself useful. You are skilled, resourceful, adaptable, and you have a kill order in your head that will be triggered in the event of my death. You are, in fact, the perfect bodyguard.”

“No. I won’t do that.”

“Of course you will. You have no way of stopping it.”

You bare your teeth, trying to rise from the bed. He's right. You are alone in a cell. You don’t even have a bucket. But there has to be something. There has always been something before.

“As many people as I’ve enthralled, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone who hates me quite this much. Which makes this rather fascinating, Elise, since, the brain being what it is, your mind will invent a series of rationalizations to justify why you’re choosing to serve me. How far will you bend in order to reach that place? That’s what raises my curiosity. I wonder whether the end result will still be able to be accurately called you.”

“I will kill you.”

“Well,” he says, “you’ll want to.”

“Stay back.” You think you hear him approaching, and throw out your arms. “Stay back, you motherfucker!”

“I’m not going to grapple with you, Elise. You will open your eyes of your own volition. You will do this because you see there is no alternative.”

“Eliot,” you say. “I want to see Eliot.”

“I’m afraid Eliot is in Syria. He flew out last night.”

“Tell him I’m here.”

“Oh, Elise,” says Thoreau. “He already knows.”

You don’t want to believe him. But you can’t find falsehood in his voice. Eliot, you think. Eliot, you were my last hope.

“Open your eyes, please,” Thoreau says, and you begin to shake very badly, because you are going to do it.


“So you left her,” Danny says.

You rub your forehead. Your throat is sore; you've been talking for some time. It's taxing, because you're recovering from a near-death experience and outside the window forces are gathering to kill you. “That’s what you get from that story? That I left?” Danny doesn’t respond. “Yes. I left. There was no alternative.”

“There’s always an alternative.”

“Well,” you say. You feel tired. “It didn’t feel like it.”

“What then?”

“Thoreau sent her after me. I had this crazy idea that I’d be left alone if I went far enough away. That I could start a new life. But she came after me and systematically murdered everyone who was in the way.”

“She’s probably compromised.”

“You think that makes a difference?”

“Yes,” says Danny, “because I can un-compromise her, with the bareword.”

“Can’t be done.”

“Why not?”

“You can’t erase an instruction. Not even with that. You would only create conflicting instructions.”

“Which means what?”

“It’s unpredictable.”

“Well, that’s fucking something.”

“The original instruction won’t go anywhere. It could reassert itself at any moment, based on situational factors, such as where she is, how she’s feeling. Do you want to take that chance when one of the instructions is kill everyone?”


“Well, you fucking can’t.”

A low thrumming begins outside. Danny peers out the window at the sky. “I love her.”

You shake your head. “You’re misremembering.”

“I remember that.”

“Listen to me carefully,” you say, “because over the last twelve months, I have been highly motivated to figure out exactly what happened in Broken Hill, and as a result I know for a fact that your movements diverged from hers shortly after she left me facedown in a ditch. What I pieced together from this was that when she went to you and asked you to leave with her, you said no. This is how I first began to suspect your existence as an exception. And it’s how I know you didn’t love her.”

“You said people are defined by what they want. That it’s the most important thing about them. Yes?”


“Then I know who I am.”

You look out the window. “Well, terrific. That’s terrific, Nick. I’m so glad you could find your emotional core, before your ex-girlfriend murders us. Imagine what would happen if she got her hands on a bareword again. Imagine that.”

“I’ll keep it from her.”

“Okay,” you say, “well, now we’re entering a magical fantasy land, because with all due respect to your newly regained assertiveness, you don’t have a hope in hell of keeping her from anything she wants. What’s that noise?”


“More than one? What do they look like?”

“Why would she do anything to help this guy Thoreau? She must be compromised. He’s making her chase us and you say she has to die for it.”

“You think I like it?”

“Yes. I do. Because of Jane.”

You look at the ceiling. “Well,” you say. “Maybe you’re right.”


“So it doesn’t matter. Is it Woolf’s choice? Maybe not, but she is what she is. You, right now, are shooting at people for the crime of being compromised. Why is Woolf different? Also, may I add, she wasn’t made this way out of nowhere. Thoreau sowed that seed in fertile ground.”

Danny raises his voice over the din of the choppers. “Meaning what?”

“Meaning she wiped out Broken Hill!”

“Maybe she was compromised then!”

“You’re choosing what you want to believe! Christ! I would love to believe that I didn’t let eighteen thousand people die because I couldn’t see her for what she was. But I can’t. The truth is she was always like this and I refused to see it.”

“I tell you what, how about we kill Thoreau?”

“Sure, we’ll ask Woolf to stand aside for a minute. Don’t look at me like that’s a realistic possibility. She’ll defend him to the death. And even if she could be circumvented somehow, Thoreau being alive is what keeps Woolf in check. Remove him and she’s left with an instruction to kill everyone.”

Danny is watching out the window. The loudness of the choppers seems to have leveled.

“You want a nightmare scenario? Thoreau goes down, Woolf takes the bareword. Thoreau cannot die. Not before Woolf.” Danny doesn’t react. “What’s happening out there?”

“Guys coming out of choppers.”

“What kind of guys?”

“Military. Big black helmets with goggles. Can’t see their faces.”

“Ah,” you say. “So we are completely fucked, then.”

Danny looks at you.

“Environmentally Quarantined Personnel. They see the world through filters, to protect them against compromise.”

“Should I shoot them?”

“Sure,” you say. “Why not?”

Danny raises the rifle. A part of the window frame near his head explodes. He ducks against the wall. “Shit.”

“Yes,” you say.

Danny moves to the other window, checks outside. “They’re encircling us.”

“I would imagine they’re landing on the roof, too,” you say. “Rappelling down from the choppers, perhaps.” You close your eyes. “Any final questions for me before we die?”
(This post was last modified: 05-23-2017, 01:43 PM by Douglas.)
05-23-2017, 01:37 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
Patron Saint of Normcore

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I've got five, the first:

"Are you a cat person or a dog person?"
05-23-2017, 02:02 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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(05-23-2017, 02:02 PM)Schazer Wrote: I've got five, the first:

"Are you a cat person or a dog person?"

You let yourself smirk. "The irony is that that the answer to that question never meant anything. The mere fact that you could get an answer, and the tone of the answer that followed, spoke volumes more than if they actually cared about 'cat or dog'. It was an innocuous question meant to lure the mind into a false sense of banality and security. But if you must know, I'm not into pets."
05-23-2017, 02:08 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
Patron Saint of Normcore

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>The guy you were with when we met. He wasn't a poet. Who was he?

>Who were you, before you were Eliot?

>Until we ran into Austen, uh, ended up in the cattle yard, you still thought there were members of the Organisation you could trust, yet you've all this time Thoreau was behind it? How?????

>If I can't be compromised, how was I told to forget?
05-23-2017, 02:28 PM
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Dragon Fogel
 RE: Vox Mentis
The Goddamn Pacman

Posts: 8,651
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What if I told her to delay another order? Say, for a thousand years?
05-23-2017, 05:07 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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(05-23-2017, 05:07 PM)Dragon Fogel Wrote: What if I told her to delay another order? Say, for a thousand years?

"Only continue to follow Thoreau's interests after you have personally walked on the surface of Alpha Centauri"
"Do not kill anyone before personally visiting every star in Andromeda"
(This post was last modified: 05-23-2017, 08:11 PM by Smurfton.)
05-23-2017, 08:08 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis
that escalated quickly

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Sunshine, Lollipops and Diabetes
what if... you told her to remember? Get her back to something resembling the her that was her, the her that loved you?
05-23-2017, 10:26 PM
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☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆
 RE: Vox Mentis
i'm rad as hell, and i'm not gonna take it anymore

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(05-23-2017, 02:28 PM)Schazer Wrote: >If I can't be compromised, how was I told to forget?

this is the big one

i don't have a question coming to mind right now, but can we have one last nod to classic action movies and have danny blow up the roof with explosives rigged earlier
05-24-2017, 01:00 AM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
Spoiler :
(05-24-2017, 01:00 AM)☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆ Wrote: i don't have a question coming to mind right now, but can we have one last nod to classic action movies and have danny blow up the roof with explosives rigged earlier

Stay tuned... ;)

We are now heading for the end. I'll update every 45 minutes-ish today until it's over - strap in for the finale of Vox Mentis!

(05-23-2017, 02:28 PM)Schazer Wrote: >Who were you, before you were Eliot?

"Honestly, nobody. I got into the Academy fairly young, so I don't remember much about before. I was grateful to them, though - my parents, my father especially, were not... ideal. The Organization got me out of a bad situation. Atwood saw something in me that I couldn't see myself. I am- was- grateful for that."

(05-23-2017, 05:07 PM)Dragon Fogel Wrote: What if I told her to delay another order? Say, for a thousand years?

(05-23-2017, 08:08 PM)Smurfton Wrote:
(05-23-2017, 05:07 PM)Dragon Fogel Wrote: What if I told her to delay another order? Say, for a thousand years?

"Only continue to follow Thoreau's interests after you have personally walked on the surface of Alpha Centauri"
"Do not kill anyone before personally visiting every star in Andromeda"

(05-23-2017, 10:26 PM)AgentBlue Wrote: what if... you told her to remember? Get her back to something resembling the her that was her, the her that loved you?

"The problem with all of those options, Nick, is as I've said: You would only create a conflicting instruction. Nothing would get overwritten. She can be under orders to not kill anyone, and simultaneously, to kill everyone. She could remember you, even love you, but still be under orders to kill everyone. Which order she is executing at any given time comes down to how she's feeling at any given time. It's unpredictable, it's not safe, and it's not worth risking. Not for you, not for me, not for anybody."

(05-23-2017, 02:28 PM)Schazer Wrote: >If I can't be compromised, how was I told to forget?

You sigh. "I have no idea. I have guesses. One guess is that something fucked up the language center of your brain at some point in some way we haven't seen before. People are far more susceptible to compromise via words rooted in their first language. Arabic speakers need Arabic morphemes, Japanese speakers need Japanese morphemes, et cetera. Maybe your first language is something else, something you're not even aware of, and she somehow tapped into that and compromised you. Another guess is that you're just a fucked up motherfucker with brain damage. Maybe she dropped an anvil on your head. Just guesses, mind you." You hear noises overhead. "Shit. This is not how I thought I was going to die."

(05-23-2017, 02:28 PM)Schazer Wrote: >The guy you were with when we met. He wasn't a poet. Who was he?

>Until we ran into Austen, uh, ended up in the cattle yard, you still thought there were members of the Organisation you could trust, yet you've all this time Thoreau was behind it? How?????

“Who gives a shit?” you say. “Honestly, Danny. At this point, who cares? We are going to die. There won't be time to ruminate on these earth-shattering revelations. They're not going to take us alive.”

Danny rubs his chin, a gesture you haven’t seen before. “Under the mattress.”


“I got you a pistol from the armory. It’s under the mattress.”

You stare at him.

“You want to maybe get it out?”

“I maybe want to shoot you with it, if it would make any difference.”

“It’s going to be all right, Eliot.”

“No,” you say, “these guys are going to kill us while Woolf watches from a distance. Sometime later, an unimaginable number of people are going to devote their lives to shifting dirt, because Thoreau has developed a hankering to dig a very deep hole in one place and pile it up in another. That’s how it’s going to be, you asshole. That guy when we met? A poet, by the way. Sebastian Brant. Those guys on the ranch? They were the ones I could persuade to leave the Organization. To leave Thoreau and Woolf. I thought Jane was one of them, I thought I had persuaded her to leave, but it has since become abundantly clear that she was compromised by Woolf, and feeding back information, such as your existence, what we were planning, and so on, the entire time, and then she turned Jane against me and I had to shoot her! I had to fucking shoot her, Nick!”

“Just get out the gun.”

“Why bother?” you shout. “Since Woolf is coming only to shower us with chocolates and kisses?”

Danny paces.

“Oh,” you say. “Oh, oh, are we having regrets?”

“Shut up.”

“Thirty years,” you say. “My entire adult life, I’ve guarded every word that’s come out of my mouth. And you know what? I’m done. I am finally, completely fucking done. So hey-o! Fuck you, Nick Parsons! Danny Walker! Whoever you are! Fuck you very much! And fuck you, Thoreau! And you, Elise Woolf! Fuck you the most of all!” You throw back the blanket. You slide a hand beneath the mattress and find metal. “Let’s go!” Your body hurts everywhere but your mind is soaring. “Here we go, hey-o, diddle diddle!”
05-24-2017, 01:16 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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Joined: Mar 2015
You come out of the chopper and jog to the shelter of a falling-down building that once sold wire, apparently. You forgot about stores like this. Shops, you mean. Shops that sell only one thing, which you could not conceive of wanting. You could live a lifetime in DC and never see a wire store. If you wanted wire, you would go to a warehouse-style hypermarket and it would be one shelf in aisle twelve. But here it's a whole shop. You would go in and ask for some wire, because the roos knocked down a section of your side paddock fence again, and you would have a conversation about it.

You didn’t want to come back to Broken Hill. You've been operating for a while now as a compartmentalized person, putting different pieces of yourself in different places, and you didn’t know what Broken Hill would do to that. But you're here, because you don’t get to make choices about that kind of thing anymore, and have to do the best you can. One part of you, one of the compartments, is glad. It thinks you're coming home. The rest is pretty freaked out.

“We’re deploying,” says Plath. Plath is running around with a headset that won’t stay put, talking to security guys. You are not very happy with Plath. You've crossed paths with Plath a few times and each time Plath is more neurotic. There's something wild and jumpy in her eyes that you don't trust. Also, Plath came on board shortly after the terrible failed attempt to corner Eliot and his exception at the Portland airport, during which the poet Raine had died, and although Plath hasn’t said anything, you know she views that incident as a shameful fuckup on your part. “It’s so hot.” Plath begins to extract herself from her jacket. You are not wearing a jacket, because it had been obvious in advance that the desert would be hot. “Like an oven.”

“Yes.” You watch Plath get her jacket tangled up in her headset.

“I’ll call Thoreau, tell him we landed.”


“He asked to be kept up to-”

“Don’t call Thoreau,” you say. You are still in charge. You are still the best in the organization at hunt-and-kill.

“We need a command center,” says a man. His voice is machine modulated, coming out of a helmet. His name is Masters. He's in control of the soldiers. Currently, Masters has EQPs spreading through Broken Hill like a toxic spill, establishing perimeters, getting fixes, whatever else it is they do. It's to help you neutralize Eliot, but you don’t like it, being around people you can’t compromise.

You remember a burger place. It's a good distance from the hospital, close enough to coordinate the action but not so close that Eliot is likely to be able to sneak up and shoot you. You had eaten there, alone, sometimes, other times not. But you aren’t thinking about that. Danny is trying to surface in your brain but you are not going to let him. The point is, it's a good location. “I know somewhere.”

A small squad sweeps the burger place while you and Plath stand outside, shielding your faces from the sun. A chopper passes overhead, whipping up hot, stinging sand. “Ugh,” says Plath. “This place.”

A soldier opens the rear door and gestures. You pass through a small kitchen, where a dark skillet lies under a layer of dust. Utensils dangle from overhead racks, surprisingly bright. Then you're in the serving area, passing familiar tables. There are no bodies. Maybe the soldiers removed them. Plath hangs back for some reason but you move to the front of the store. There are dark shapes outside, hard to see through the dirty plate glass, and you approach with some trepidation. Outdoor tables. A ragged umbrella still over one of them. A few cars. If you put your face to the glass, you can see farther down the street. You don’t look for detail but can see the shape of the hospital. Somewhere inside are Eliot and his exception.

Your phone rings. You pull it out. “I hear you’re in Broken Hill,” says Thoreau.

“Yes.” You look at Plath, the snitch.

“I find myself wondering why Eliot would go there, of all places.”

“Well, my guess is to get the word,” you say. “The exception can just pick it up.” There's silence. “Hello?”

“I’m sorry. I was rendered speechless a moment, just then.”

“The bareword,” you say. “It’s in the emergency room.”

“I have the bareword.”

“You have the copy I made. The original is still there.”

“How useful it would have been to have this information before this moment.”

“Oh,” you say. “I’m sorry.” You knew that, in one of your compartments.

“You will kill Eliot,” Thoreau says, “and the exception, and, for that matter, anyone else Eliot has managed to conjure up who doesn’t work directly for me. You will then cordon off the hospital until I arrive. Is this clear?”

“Yes.” In your head, you add: you jerk. You do this sometimes. It's a kind of game.

“I really am vexed by this exception business. I have felt decidedly uncomfortable, knowing that one exists. It is a most unwelcome distraction to my work.”

“I can imagine.” You jerk.

“Call me when Eliot’s dead,” he says. “I won’t set foot in Broken Hill until then. Oh, and Elise? At some point, you will fill me in on exactly how you managed to copy an object you can’t look at.”

“I will do that,” you say. The phone clicks. Your jaw works and for a moment you think you're actually going to say it. But you only make a little grunt, yuh. You glance at Plath. But no one seems to have noticed. So that's okay.

In the beginning, you hadn’t even been able to think it. Perhaps eventually you'll be able to say the words to his face. Hey, Thoreau! You’re a jerk! It's a fun idea. Implausible; most likely, this is as far as it can go, a mental game. You'll see. For now, the important thing is that a part of you is still you.
05-24-2017, 01:57 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
Eliot strides to the door, pulls it open, and disappears. This happens much more quickly than you expect, because until a few moments ago, Eliot looked very much like a guy recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound. What has suddenly revived him, you don't know. “Wait,” you say. But Eliot is running down the corridor; you can hear his footsteps.

You heft the rifle. This is going to be especially useless for close-quarters combat. You hadn’t intended to leave the room. You’d intended to stay and pick off guys until Elise got the message and came to see you. You blow air through your teeth. “Fuck,” you say, and go after Eliot. You jog down the corridor, passing two neonatal rooms that were once staffed by a woman named Helen who’d always had pink iced doughnuts, any time of day or night. You never saw her eat one. She just had them. You visited this place often, for those doughnuts.

You reach the corner and poke your head around. Eliot is nowhere to be seen. He's just fucking disappeared. You debate the merits of opening your mouth to make the kind of noise that might attract armed men, then there is a quick one-two of flat gunshots in the near distance, which decides you.

You reach the stairwell and peer over the railing to see Eliot standing below you. At Eliot’s feet is a man in a black suit with no helmet. The man looked dazed. His gun, a semiautomatic, lay a few feet away.

“Shoot them in the face,” Eliot says. “They’re armored, but it’s distracting.”

“What did you do?” The man in the black suit begins to grope for his gun. “He’s moving!” You raise the rifle.

“Don’t!” says Eliot. “He’s on the side of the angels now.”

The man retrieves his gun and gets to his feet. He looks up at you questioningly.

“He’s cool,” Eliot tells the man. “Neither of you shoot the other.” He begins to descend the steps.

“How did you...?” But Eliot has disappeared. You run after him, jumping the steps three or four at a time. You catch Eliot at the top of the second floor, which used to be the surgical wing. “Will you fucking wait?” You go to seize Eliot by the shoulder but the black-suited man slaps his gun into his shoulder and looks down the barrel at you.

“Don’t alarm my prose,” Eliot says. “He wants to protect me.”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Looking for Woolf.”

“She could be anywhere.”

“Yes. But it’s a better option than sitting in that room.” Eliot looks around. His pupils are dilated. “You used to work here. What’s a clever way out?”

“I don’t know. Can you tell this guy to stop pointing his fucking gun at me?”

“He’s finding you threatening. So am I, actually.”

“You look like you’re on drugs.”

“I’m releasing a lot of dopamine,” Eliot says. “It’s a natural high. Bob! Gun down.”

The soldier lowers his gun. He stares at you with baleful eyes.

“How about a laundry chute?”


“A chute,” Eliot says, “that we slide down to a basement or some-such.”

“No. They don’t work like that. This is a hospital - we’d lose children down them.”

“What, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think,” Eliot says. “You must have lost a few patients. People who snuck out somehow. It’s not Fort Knox.”

“No one... okay, one time a guy broke into a storage room by climbing onto the roof of the building next door. We might be able to-”

“Yes. That.” Eliot looks at the soldier. “Go cause a distraction. Shoot at nothing. Report false information. Things like that.” The man nods and begins to jog down the stairs. “This storage room, then.”

“How did you compromise that guy?”

“I know him. I used to work for the Organization, you know. Storage room.”

You lead Eliot through double doors. You never liked coming here. It was the surgeons. You were never completely sure they really gave a shit. They seemed to enjoy challenges more than people. “So you, what, shot him in the face, pulled off his helmet, and used words?”

“Correct,” Eliot says.

You reach the storage room and try the handle. No one has been by in the past year or so to unlock it, apparently. But you know where the key is kept. You jog down the corridor, pull open the second drawer in the nurse’s station, and find it among paper clips and rubber bands. When you return, Eliot is tugging at the door. “Quick,” Eliot says.

“I am being quick.”


You pull open the door. You're finding the new Eliot unsettling. Somewhere in the distance is a staccato of gunfire. You wait but it isn’t repeated.

“Bob,” says Eliot, fondly.

You enter the storeroom. The window was fitted with new locks since the intruder but they won’t be much of an impediment from this side. You peer through the glass. A short climb down to a secluded part of the roof, then a short run and leap to the roof of the pharmacy next door. You don't see any soldiers.

“The real problem is finding Woolf,” Eliot murmurs in your ear. You flinch. You didn’t hear him approach. Eliot looks at you. “Where is she, do you think?”

“Can you take a step back?”

“I think you know.” He taps your forehead.

“Don’t fucking touch my head.” You begin to wrestle the window out of its frame.

“This place,” Eliot says. “It brought you back to yourself. Maybe it’s having a similar effect on her. And you know her. So tell me. Where is she?”

“That plan you had before, about getting out of Broken Hill? I’m coming around on that.”

“Where,” Eliot says.

You toss the frame to the floor and climb up the shelves. The window is narrow but you manage to work the rifle through it and drop to the rooftop six feet below. You crouch against the wall until Eliot drops beside you.

Eliot looks around. “This was a good idea.” He rises and runs to the edge of the roof, leaps across the gap, and lands on the tin roof of the pharmacy. You see his head turn left, right. Then he stops moving. You freeze. Eliot creeps back toward the edge, peers over, and drops out of sight.

You run after him. Halfway there, you hear Eliot bark out words in a strange, guttural tongue. When you reach the edge, you see Eliot in the alley standing over another helmet-free soldier. This one is bald.

You toss the rifle down and lower yourself over the edge. “I’m starting to feel like you don’t even need me.”

“Oh, I do,” says Eliot. “I don’t know where she is.” He looks at the pharmacy.

“She’s not in there. I don’t remember her ever going in there. Eliot. Eliot?”


“You’re staring at nothing.”

“Oh,” says Eliot. “I was thinking about earplugs.”

“Is that... that sounds like a great idea.”

“It’s great against verbal compromise. It’s not so great for hearing someone coming up behind you with a gun. So there’s a trade-off.”


“I’d rather be shot than compromised, though.” He looks at you. “Shoot me if she manages to compromise me. Did I already say that?”


“Well, do. I’m serious.”

The bald man says, “We’re on the third floor. We know you’re not there.”

“Thank you, Steve,” says Eliot. “Danny. Where is she?”

“How the fuck should I know?”


You look around. If you were Elise, where would you go? Somewhere near the hospital. There's a café on the other side of the block, but Elise had never liked it; she said it smelled like men. You’d usually gone to the burger joint farther down. That was actually where you’d first met. Outside of her being a patient, that is. She’d been eating and you had walked by with some girl, whoever you were seeing at the time, and she’d called out. You remember thinking she was a nutcase. Why had you thought that? The card. She’d sent you a card with something crazy written on it, TO MY HERO or YOU SAVED MY LIFE, something like that. But then you’d spoken and she hadn’t seemed crazy. There had been something about her. Something bright, to which you’d responded.

“You thought of something,” Eliot says. “I see it on your face.”

You shake your head.

“Don’t hold out on me.” Eliot leans closer. “Come on, now, Danny.”

“You are creepy as hell right now.”

“This state is temporary. I need to make the most of it. Comedown is going to be a bitch.”

“I’ll make you a deal.”

“Oh, yes.”

“I might know where she is. But if I tell you, I go in first. I get to talk to her. If it goes badly, fine. You do what you have to do. But I get five minutes.”

“Deal.” Eliot sticks out his hand.

You hesitate, suspicious. “You don’t mean that.”

“What do you want me to say?” Eliot shouts. “You’re confronting the futility of your own proposition! Shoot that guy!” This part is directed to the bald soldier, who drops to one knee and raises the semiautomatic. You turn in time to see a pair of dark-suited figures at the end of the alley, and a half dozen on the roof of the hospital looking at you. Time for the contingency plan. You fish around in your pocket and depress a button. The roof of the hospital erupts in a staccato series of explosions, and the guys immolate. The two in the alley turn to look.

“Excellent! Good work. Now Elise,” says Eliot, then grabs your arm and then you're running.

“It’s the burger place,”
you pant. “Right, right, circle around the block.” You round the corner. “Five minutes. Promise me.”

“Okay, okay,” Eliot says. “Fine.” He stops, eyes widening at something on your gun. “Whoa, shit, fuck.”

“What?” you say. You can’t see the problem, and look at Eliot, and Eliot’s pistol butt is moving very quickly toward your face. And then that's all you know.
05-24-2017, 02:40 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
The soldiers go in and soon there is an explosion on the roof of the hospital. This is a problem. You can tell because at first Masters emits updates at intervals of fifteen seconds - who is where, doing what, and for how long they are expected to do it; a nonstop cataloging of physical facts that he seems to enjoy on a deep, sexual level - then, for no reason, a whole minute goes by with no updates at all. This manifests in Plath as a series of increasingly dramatic hair corrections, and finally a question, and Masters turns his goggles toward her and says in his machine voice, “We’re trying to fix target location.”

“I thought you had target location,” Plath says. Masters doesn't answer. “Did we not start with target location?”

“Eliot is slippery,” you say.

“We are not having another Portland.” Plath directs this at Masters, but what Masters thinks of it was unknowable. You kind of hope Masters will become so pissed off with Plath that he will unsnag one of what had to be five or six different weapons strapped to various parts of his body and do something unspeakable with it. Thoreau, Thoreau, you think, as you do at times like this. You jerk.

You rise from the table. The front glass is very dirty but you can see through it. A chopper is still hovering above the hospital, but aside from this, nothing seems to be happening.

“We’re regrouping,” says Masters. “We may have a new fix.”

“You get a fix,” says Plath. “You get a fucking fix right this second or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” Her face is flushed. Globules of sweat form a neat line all along her hairline. She's displaying an awful lot of emotion for a poet, which makes you think that Plath has reason to believe the consequences for failure are particularly terrible. You keep watching the road. You need to think like Eliot. You know him better than most. You can imagine Eliot skulking around out there, sniffing you out. That’s what he’ll be thinking about. Not escape. He will be coming for you.

A black-suited soldier emerges from the crossroad and jogs toward the burger place. “Who is this guy?” you say. Nobody answered, so you try again. “Who the fuck is this fucking guy?”

Plath comes up beside you. “Speaking for myself, I don’t mind adding a little manpower to this location.”

Masters says, “We’re redrawing our zones.”

This sounds like bullshit to you, because if your current location has become part of Masters’s operational zone, that would have been something he would have mentioned. Soldiers moving locations: That's all he talks about. You eye the approaching guy. “Oh,” you say. “That’s Eliot.”

“That’s... that’s impossible,” says Plath. But there is uncertainty in her voice. Plath is beginning to realize what you've known for a while: that you cannot underestimate Eliot. Every time you think you have him figured out, you don’t. “Let’s... let’s get some security here, huh?” Plath reaches across you to Masters, who might be barking orders over his internal radio or might be just standing there; it's impossible to tell. “Masters. Masters.”

“Unit is not responding.” Masters draws a fat pistol. “May be hostile. I advise retreat.”

Plath vanishes. You hesitate. You really do want to face Eliot and end him. But this is not the way to do it: with Eliot in heavy body armor, filtered against compromise. There is taking a risk, and there is suicide. You turn to follow Plath, then have another thought. There is always the possibility that this is another layer of sneakiness. Eliot could have deliberately sent someone who would be spotted - the exception, perhaps, or just a soldier he managed to overcome - toward the burger place from the front in order to flush you out the back. That is just the kind of thing that Eliot might do. You consider. There's a side door, leading to the dumpster. You decide to be prudent.

You push your way outside. The brick wall of the adjoining store faces you. This is the kind of thing you like: a closeted escape route. This, right here, is your element. Then you stop, because it occurs to you that maybe this is a problem. Maybe the last thing you want to do in this situation is follow your instincts, since those might be predictable to someone who knows you very well. Eliot steps around the corner.

“Shit,” you say.

Little yellow plugs poke out of Eliot’s ears. He's holding a pistol. His eyes are wide and there is a sheen of sweat on his face that tells you he's put himself into a heightened mental state. Poets can do this, if they really want. You've seen them do it. They talk and move very rapidly for about an hour, then sleep for days.
“Gotcha,” says Eliot.

You hold up your hands. You want to speak, but it seems like if you open your mouth, he'll shoot you. He'll shoot you anyway, of course. That's why he's here.

You face each other a moment. Maybe some guys will come through the door and take care of Eliot. That would be super handy.

Eliot wiggles the plugs out of his ears with his free hand. “I had to render the exception unconscious. He couldn’t be trusted.”

“Okay,” you say.

“I blame myself for what happened. I should have stopped it.” You don’t know what to say to that. “I have to kill you.”

You nod. It's been like this for a while.

His fingers flex on the pistol. “I’m sorry I didn’t teach you better.” His expression is very strange.

“Eliot,” you say.

“You have to stop.”


There are soldiers approaching. You can feel them. This idea is distressing in a way it wasn’t a few moments ago.

“I made mistakes,” he says. Around you, soldiers boil out of the air like ants. There is a great deal of noise and Eliot has every opportunity to shoot you but he doesn’t and he falls down and dies.
05-24-2017, 03:13 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
After this, you feel strange. People come and go, soldiers and poets, and sometimes they stop to speak to you but you don’t hear them. When they begin to package Eliot, you walk to the front of the burger place and sit at a table. Occasionally someone walks by but for the most part you're alone. You begin to cry. You don’t understand why, because you had wanted Eliot dead. You had wanted that very clearly. But there is grief coming out of you anyway, spilling from your compartments, and you're reminded that not all of your wants are yours.
A shadow falls beside you. You look up to see who is stupid enough to disturb you in this moment, and see Thoreau.

He rights a fallen chair and composes himself into it. He's wearing a beautiful dark gray suit and his hair looks fresh and bright. He's wearing sunglasses but he removes these and sets them on the table, and behind them his eyes are flat.

“Oh,” you say. You feel stupid. Of course Thoreau is here. You should have realized that.

“Congratulations.” He surveys the line of dust-blown buildings across the road. “You see now why I wanted you, specifically, on Eliot.”

You don’t reply.

“Persuasion stems from understanding. We compel others by learning who they are and turning it against them. All this, the chasing, the guns...” He gestures vaguely. “These are details. What Eliot could not escape was the fact that I understood him better than he understood himself.” Plath hovers at the edge of your senses. Thoreau says, “A glass of water, please. Let’s make it two.”

Once Plath has gone, Thoreau shrugs his jacket and passes it to Masters, who's standing like he's planted there. “I have been visiting delegates. Not all of them agree with my new direction for the Organization. Some tried to move against me. Expected, of course. Futile, since I understand them. We attempt to conceal ourselves, Elise, but the truth is we do not entirely want to be concealed. We want to be found. Every poet, sooner or later, discovers this: that within perfect walls, there is nothing worth protecting. There is, in fact, nothing. And so we exchange privacy for intimacy. We gamble with it, hoping that by exposing ourselves, someone will find a way in. This is why the human animal will always be vulnerable: because it wants to be.” Plath arrives with two glasses, of a kind you recognize from years before, and sets them on the table.

“I feel bad about Eliot.”

“Yes, well,” says Thoreau. “Some kind of suppressed emotional overflow, I would imagine.”

“And I’m remembering things.”

“Oh? Such as?”

“I came out of the ER. Through that door.” You point. “I went that way. People were killing each other. Because of the word. Danny came after me. He knew what I’d done. But he saved me anyway.”

“I’m not sure why you’re telling me this,” says Thoreau. “It’s irrelevant.”

“I’m not talking to you.”

A figure is walking toward you, coming from the direction of the hospital. In the heat haze, it could be anyone. But you have a feeling.

“Danny,” you say.
05-24-2017, 03:47 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
You peer over the edge of the roof at the street below. Your head throbs. Eliot had hit you. He had frowned at something on your rifle, and you had looked to see what, and woken up slumped in a doorway. Now Eliot is gone and you are on the roof of a furniture store, trying to see what's going on.

A few minutes ago, a soldier walked toward the burger place, then another emerged from the front door and approached with his pistol drawn. It seemed like they were going to have a confrontation, but they stopped at three feet’s separation and stood there as if communicating telepathically. Then they both ran back to the burger place and plenty more soldiers appeared and there was gunfire. Eventually a young woman emerged and sat down at a table. You're staring, because the woman is Elise.

You began to doubt that a little, because of Eliot. Whether she's still the same. But now everything is clear. You wriggle back from the rooftop. It's always been this way: The more people talk, the more they obscure. You don’t need to argue for the truth. You can see it. You'd almost forgotten that. You grip the rifle and go to get Elise.
05-24-2017, 05:15 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

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Joined: Mar 2015
Thoreau turns to look at the figure approaching out of the heat haze. “Who?”

“The exception, could be,” says Plath, peering out from a raised hand. The figure’s arms are extended from his sides. He's wearing jeans and a T-shirt. “Nick Parsons. Looks unarmed.”

“Well, how about we shoot him?”

“On it,” says Masters. He gestures and two soldiers step onto the road.

“We know Parsons,” says Plath. “He’s indecisive. Untrained with weapons. He’s a carpenter.”

“Elise, you appear anxious,” says Thoreau. “Is there something I should know?”


“Tell me.”

“I thought Danny died. But he didn’t. I just made myself believe that.”

Plath says, “Who’s Danny?”

“Her lover,” says Thoreau, “of some time ago. He’s the exception?”

You nod.

Thoreau drums his fingers on the table. “This changes nothing.”

You watch the soldiers fan out. Danny begins to slow. You can see his face.

“Wait,” says Thoreau. “I’m missing something. Aren’t I?”

You have to answer. “Yes.”

“What am I missing?” He clicks his fingers at someone behind you. “You, too.” A poet, Rosenberg, a young guy with longish hair, steps onto the road, heading after the soldiers. “Elise?”

“Two things.”

“Name them. I am instructing you to name them.”

“I don’t think you’ve been in love. Not recently, anyway. I’m not sure you remember what it’s like. It compromises you. It takes over your body. Like a bareword. I think love is a bareword. That’s the first thing.” Thoreau doesn’t react. If anything, he seems baffled. “The second thing is I wouldn’t characterize Danny as indecisive and untrained with weapons.”

Plath says, “Perhaps we should move inside.”

“Yes,” Thoreau says. “Quite.” He smooths his pants and begins to rise from the table. Then he stops, because you've seized him by the tie.

you say, “you are a jerk.”
05-24-2017, 05:44 PM
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 RE: Vox Mentis

Posts: 183
Joined: Mar 2015
You walk toward the burger place until soldiers move onto the road to intercept you. Then you change course for the real estate office. You clamber through a space that once held a plate glass window, collect the rifle from where you left it on the counter, and jog toward the back offices. You’ve been here a few times while dating Cecilia, the real estate agent. Enough to know the layout, anyway. You take position in Cecilia’s office and wait.

A few minutes later, a soldier shuffles in. You wait until the second appears, then put a bullet into his faceplate. Both men vanish like smoke. You pull the bolt, reloading as you jog out into the corridor. You go right instead of left, ease open the rear door, and then you're in sunshine. You trot around the side of the building to the air-con vents and peer through. The second soldier is moving away from you in a crouch. You raise the rifle and shoot him in the back of the head.

When you reenter the building, you're surprised to find both guys still alive. You wouldn’t have credited a helmet with being able to stop a high-powered .28. But you guess that momentum has to go somewhere. One of the soldiers has pulled off his helmet and is vomiting down his chest. The other is crawling weakly toward the front door.

You raise the rifle. The helmet-less solder raises a hand. You shoot him. You walk around to the other one, reloading the rifle. A man unexpectedly appears outside the window, a young guy in a cheap suit and tie, stringing together nonsense words, and you shoot him through the window. You look back. The crawling soldier has stopped crawling.

You reload the rifle. You can hear a chopper approaching. Soldiers will be coming from both sides, you guess. They'll be jogging slowly, like these two guys, since they're encased in forty-pound armored ovens. They've been lumbering around in the noonday sun for about an hour. You can’t really imagine what that's like. You've seen people drop dead out here, trying to do too much. They have the idea that the worst the sun can do is make them uncomfortable. They apply their sunscreen and their hats and head out and just fall over.

You go into the bathroom and slide open the window. There's a low fence offering cover to the adjoining building, and from there you think you can make your way unseen to pretty much anywhere you want. You climb out the window and begin to crawl.
05-24-2017, 06:26 PM
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