Inspired by Lacrimis Draconis and Grand Commodore I want to start writing more short fiction again. I often struggle with follow through and confidence with this stuff, but we'll see how it goes. This is two-ish pieces following an unnamed narrator. They're both set in the world of Maximum Recursion Depth, the former more so in MRD Vol. 1 and the latter more so in MRD Vol. 2. I hope this gives people a deeper understanding of what this world is about, whether it totally makes sense or not (it shouldn't).
"I like the new place." I do not like the new place.
"Duuuude I knowright?" It smells as toxic as masculinity. Has all the charm of an exurban McMansion. There's an old businessman off in the corner, by the fancy pool table that looks like it's never been used. He looks and smells like he just shit himself and is really embarrassed about it. He just stands there sheepishly, but from some deep dark corner of his mind past his tired eyes I can feel the rage and resentment penetrating me.
"I just gotta keep an eye on him, but otherwise I live rent free, I got a corporate card, six figures. My dude, I have made it."
"Ya I hear ya man, real impressive." I have to admit, it was.
"You gonna hand me one of those?"
"Oh, ya, my bad." I hand one over.
"Anyway, you thought I was gonna be mooching off you the rest of your life, didn't you?" I laugh. I did, but I was ok with it. They were earnest and that counts for something.
"Na, I always knew you had it in you." Wait, were they implying they think they're gonna outlive me?
"Wait, are you implying you think you're gonna outlive me?"
"Ha, ya, you caught me. Ya, I do. You've got way too much anxiety, that shit is going to kill you sooner than you think."
"Fair point." It was. But even so.
"So, when did he die?" I glance over at the Poltergeist. The old bastard looks at me with impotent menace like he caught me making love to his wife.
"I made the Attachment a week ago, so... at least a week ago?"
"Of course you don't know, don't know why I asked. You really don't have to do anything else besides keep an eye on him?"
"Nope. The Devils are taking care of the details, and the security squad is covered by either the family estate, the Corporation, or most likely, the tax payers of the great state of California. I'm only needed if shit really goes off the rails. It's a sweet life when there aren't many people who can do what you do, and what you do is in demand, ya know?" I do know.
"Ya, but I thought your Score was already maxed out, you got it low enough to make the Attachment?" They sigh. Oh...
"So, that's why you were in New York? You Resolved things with Vita?" They give me a childish grin full of too many teeth but they're vibrating like an irritated cat's healing purrs amped up on molly and amphetamines, all sparkle and pop.
"Good for you, Mad, that's good Karma." Just playing it cool.
"Anyway, this guy's Sentence must be on a fast track though, right? There's no way they're gonna let him linger like this for long. What's your plan after that?"
"Sure sure, but now I'm in their system. From now on it's easy living for me. I'm a known quantity. Reliable."
"Dude, you are not reliable tho."
"They don't know that."
"Just make sure it stays that way." A couple months ago I was bleaching a biohazard out of their ratty carpet, while they were tied up in Court, again. Their last job didn't go so well.
"So you're giving up on the pro bono work then?" The cadence breaks. I really hate awkward silences. I immediately regret asking. I always respected what they were doing, and I hope I always showed it. I did clean the bloodstain out of that apartment. Their bloodstain. I wouldn't blame them if they gave it up, but there's no way they're not feeling guilty about it.
"Ya, ya. I mean, we'll see. I have to focus on this right now. Just trying to get a good baseline here, like you. I'll work out a system. This place is overmanaged, they barely even need me here."
I hadn't seen Maddison "Mad" Marceau in a while, even before they left for that trip to NYC, and I'm realizing now how much I missed them, and wondering how frequently I'll see them anymore. Under normal circumstances this place would be entirely inaccessible to me, but they got me on the list, somehow. After that, it was Muni, a skip, a hop, a disturbingly high jump, the primal fear that it would all end in a splat, and finally, arrival. An hour fifteen total, not too bad a commute.
"How often you think you'll come back to the city?" I'm not sure if that's an awkward question to ask, but I ask it anyway. Whatever, I want to feel them out on it.
"I dunno man, they want me to be on call, and obviously I can get here faster than you, but still. Like I said, I just need to get to that baseline, and then we'll see."
"Sure, that makes sense." We spend the rest of the night playing videogames and getting high, and I try to forget about the old businessman in the corner.
"Eat my sex organs!" They're on-screen avatar teabags me and we both laugh. They're much better than me at most videogames but we always have a good time.
I flash my RegeXperience badge.
"Excuse me sir." I try not to sigh, guy is just doing his job, but I haven't had my morning coffee yet and this is not a great start to the week.
"You've been flagged for an unauthorized visit to The Court of Those Who Got Off on a Technicality. I'm going to have to take you in for questioning." I feel a pang of guilty panic, but that's not right...
"That's not right. I was added to the list. The 'consultant,'" I don't actually air-quote but I hope I'm giving off air-quote energy, "was referred by me. You should at least be able to see that in the records. I think there's been a misunderstanding." I choke the last part out as all the humidity in the air turns to icicles.
"That appears to be the case. When did you put in the request?"
"I see. It might not have gone through yet. You'll still need to put in an exception since you weren't in the system at the time of the visit." Great, so much for my morning.
"You may proceed, Mr..." His eyes dart past me and he stops mid-sentence.
"Samuel! Good morning!" I've been working here for three years but the security guy, who I've seen every single workday over that span of time, acts as though he's never seen me before, but he and Julia are on a first name basis. They small talk for a while but I forget the details before I've even finished hearing them. Julia started three and a half weeks ago, and I just learned the security guy's name is Samuel. That's enough to process right now. We get in the elevator. We small talk, but I forget the details before I've even finished hearing them.
"I forget, is this your first time, or just your first time here?" She looks comfortable enough, but some people are just like that, I don't want to assume.
"Nope, first time. Like I was saying this morning, I interned with Delilah Samson but I didn't get to sign The Contract over there, that's why I left." Shit, that's right, we already had this conversation in the elevator this morning. She seems in no way passive aggressive about it, but I also don't trust in my ability to discern such things.
"Ya, I hear that's how it is with internships." She Kirby Krackles with wholesome ambition and it's infectious. I can see why she's set to take point on the next sprint, despite her inexperience. She has the poise of Wonder Woman by way of Socialist Realism propaganda, even hooked up with the mobile EEG, EKG, and the rest of the works.
"All of the readouts are looking good, and I've got you on every monitor. You can begin Crafting whenever you're ready... It can be awkward at first, take your time." I immediately worry if that came off condescending, but I meant it genuinely. Laid out in front of her is a mini ice pick looking thing they used to shove up eye sockets to perform a frontal lobotomy (apparently called an orbitoclast), a syringe full of something I can't look at too closely because it assaults my visual system, and some kind of glossy industrial plastic wrap that gives me flashbacks of death nightmares.
"It feels different, doing it for real. I had it all planned out, but now I'm not sure what to do." She says it matter-of-factly, no blip in her EEG outside of normal parameters.
"Ya, that happens. You remember that fad from a while back, Icing, where frat bros would trick each other into looking at a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and then have to chug it in inappropriate places? I knew a guy who would Craft by Icing himself. You can't plan for that." I laugh, and she laughs along politely but I don't think she knows what I'm talking about.
She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. A couple minutes pass and I begin to see an uptick in alpha wave activity like daydreaming, but I assume she's synchronizing with the Wyrm Shamir symbiont. Without saying anything, she manifests the Words. The orbitoclast becomes (LONGING+ANALGESIC), the syringe (APOLOGETICNESS+DISSOCIATIVE), and the plastic wrap (COMPULSION+LIMINALITY). The Words decompose into numbers, the numbers into nodes and relational vectors forming into a tree-like shape, a sigil. The EEG signal oscillates erratically, but I can already see it's no longer reflecting brainwaves, but something more like vector art of a surfing wave. The Words of the Golem Core take shape. Silent Scream Surf: (DREAD+BARBITURATE). Manically, she spreads a sheet of the plastic wrap and squirts the contents of the syringe onto the sheet. She manipulates the orbitoclast like a compass, the liquid serving as ink, drawing rotations at the phase angle of the wave. Spacetime warps around her as the wave manifests into a tsunami. The plastic and ink turn into something like a semi-translucent corkscrew, the Golem Core, a forcefield vehicle that looks like it's vacuum-sealing her in a pickling marinade. Orbitoclasts jut from the Core, spinning along the tsunami wave like the teeth of a cog, producing an effect like flicker fusion, a fine blade slicing reality subcutaneously. The slices in the wave sizzle with something like cosmic inflammation. She's surfing in the groove, the transient edge between life and death, and even in her hypo-existent state she exudes ecstatic contentment, like waking up the day after a hangover in utter exaltation of good health, a joy in the otherwise mundanities of life.
"Why are you here?" This is part of the qualitative assessment.
"Danger is coming. They need me to hold things together. I have to look like I know what I'm doing." She speaks with the delirious frankness of sodium pentothal. There's a disturbed pride in her voice.
"Why are you here?" This is part of the qualitative assessment.
"I... I shouldn't be here. I said I was going to check up on my friend in the hospital before it got too late. This test was supposed to be tomorrow but Baz moved it at the last-minute. What am I doing here?" Baz Beetz is our manager. The asshole treats the job like a work of art. Damn him, but he does it well. The corkscrew-craft compresses on her and she looks like she can barely breathe.
"Why are you here?" This is part of the qualitative assessment. I'm compelled to ask the question, but I don't like it. There's a flaw in the tagging scheme. They won't hire enough analysts, so we don't have enough personnel for double-blind studies or inter-coder comparison, so of course all the analysts know exactly what the experiments are about, and they're tagging the data based on those prior expectations. I ran an analysis on the tags to demonstrate this phenomenon and the results were statistically significantly. But the higher-ups can't be bothered to do anything about it. So here we are, wasting time, shock-absorbing the negligence of the higher-ups with personal stress, for garbage data we won't be able to use, or which we'll use incorrectly, which is even worse than throwing it out.
"You know how, whenever there's a big government leak, the news reporters ask about the whistleblowers: 'Are they a Hero, or a Traitor'? Reducing the issue, framing it as a false binary, only one or the other. And usually already deciding which one, depending on the network." She speaks with a flat affect, her eyes staring out in the distance inwardly.
"Sometimes, rules are made to be broken, but that doesn't mean the rulebreaker shouldn't be punished. The rules exist for a reason. Sometimes being a Hero means doing the wrong thing. Something like that is what happened to me in my previous life, that's why I reincarnated this way." I assume the Corporation already has everything she's saying in her personnel file, but I'd never heard it before. I suppose it makes sense.
She's starting to look like a raver not ready to accept the morning light.
"All clear, the test completed successfully. Ready to wind it down?" Nothing for a moment.
"Julia, ready to wind it down?" The wave dissipates anticlimactically, no cathartic crash, and she's left in the middle of the massive test chamber looking smaller than ever. The usually bold ink-lines surrounding her have smudged and thinned. Fading, like she's caught in a moment of fairytale nostalgia. She poses, smiles, and gives me a thumbs up. It almost looks real, but I have an idea what she's feeling. She's better than me at compartmentalizing, but working through this system, it tears you apart like time on telomeres. I guess that's the cost of being a Hero.