024. Buckle

Strap in. This is your training mission. Reality Blitz 101. The subversive environment is a singularity fuelled totality with roaming syntax and learning heuristics that will tilt the plane of existence around the subject as they try to adapt.

Rotating barrel scenarios with roulette logic triggers are spinning like satellites about in the orbit of the driving plugged in consciousness. Hera is in a disconnect state at the moment. Is this real?

Dead scripts. Live scripts. Interslices slide through and tangle the different movements. Realities clatter and grind against each other. Behind her eyes she is engaged in a rapid sorting of conflicting data that tries to identify which of the competing truths is actually real, or if not real then at least relevant to her survival.

Bellwether is a reality engine. He doesn’t realise it. He has been used as an infiltration tool. He is a Trojan horse. He stands there and she knows that he is thinking that he is here for a specific purpose … Thinking or thought, does that still hold true for him?

He can’t see what she can see, he can see things unspooling from him like ribbons of other. Coding gone awry. Script debased. Reality fried. She was not in his original script, but she could be accommodated. The tesseract laced hit that she just used to punch free-roaming chronon particles into him that are interfering with his integrity field is not working on him how it might work on others. This was not an eventuality they had planned for.

Truth blisters, ruptures, tears and splits and oozes. She can fight through this. He is trained to fight through it too, but he is compromised; there is something other that is built into him.

And she is on a mission. She is in a simulation. She is experiencing a maybe tomorrow collapsing into a maybe now. This is a swirl of probability waves, sequential causal collapse and resurgence; death of a quantum computer.

She hits him again and a deep existential nausea riptides through her. He flickers, slight spatial rearrangement of features. Localspace is a broken frame. For a second they swap places. They blink out of existence. They blink back.

The light show is creation in reverse … Half-hearted Big Crunch. He hits her and it feels like a repudiation of her truth; of her reality; of her right to exist. This is anti-reality; death packaged in a bipedal form. An origami fold of realities into a thousand petaled lotus that is the awakening of a fledgling otherness.

One sum versus another some. Sparking mathematics. Rapid calculate. It seems to bend the physical space around the notional; the ideational underpinning strained to breaking point. Greenstick fracture reality … She doesn’t know how to possibly move forward. Is there a forward? Directional impulses seem negated, turned in on themselves. Existential collapse as a precursor to localspace breakdown. She can’t survive it, but she knows he can. What to do?

She drops a Causal Block: it detonates in the subtext and the whole scene grinds to a halt. You have to acquiesce to local rules if you want to plug yourself in. She had him, but she was frozen in the amber too. Buckling space, she’d been held there before. Buckling space into a lock-state she’d done that before. Someone else would have to jumpstart the narrative.

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023. Hera

The crew were shutdown – quite a thing to behold, an entire agency station’s crew unconscious; not something you expected to see everyday, if ever. She felt for them, her brothers; wondered what it would be like were the same thing to happen to her and her sisters.

She had decloaked and was walking the floors totally visible; well, she was behind a holo-projection which allowed her to maintain the illusion that there were only men in the agency. Couldn’t have Bellwether knowing too much, could they? And speaking of that man, where in the hell was he? Shouldn’t the gloating have ceased and whatever came next be commencing?

She would try communicating with this man first, see what his demands were, if he had any; and stop him if he just intended to take over, which she suspected was not the case.

When he materialised she recognised him … Kind of. She had once been stationed here and had been required to memorise the faces of every member of the crew, and this one was reminiscent of not one but two. She was eidetic, and tacked onto that human framework was the kind of intuitive neural learning net that enhanced her data-processing abilities to a ridiculously high level of speed and accuracy.

Who though? A rogue, but not exactly. One of theirs, but not exactly. She double-tapped the arch in her left eye orbit and toggled through the different reality filters available to her. Not one but two … Enough of both of them left to register. Surely Bellwether would know that they could find this out about him? But then she remembered:the man didn’t expect anyone to be awake to see his intrusion.

Zaire and Bolus, what had brought them to this state? Another toggle through the register of different filters and she had her answer … This being was kicking out heavy particles of unscripted; almost like it was sporulating. The thing was infecting reality, ideas coded into the matter that was flaking off it into the room, and this thing was sick with the idea.

It was, she knew instinctively, the idea that had done all this damage to the crew. Would her training be enough to stave off any kind of attack that this thing might mount against her? She wasn’t sure. She was supposed to be sure about everything to do with is creature and how to handle it, but she could feel reality boiling. Waves of sickness rolled through the space, and the machinery of localspace physics sputtered like a dying candle.

‘You think,’ he said ‘that I know nothing of you discreet bitches, barnacled onto this place in your bubble universes. The truth of me is larger than you can comprehend. I am Zaire and I am Bolus, but how many versions are there fused into this vessel? For how many realities am I the nexus? How many versions of me were Virago?’

She swallowed nervously.

‘For people that travel through multiple realities, this agency is sometimes astoundingly blind. I wonder at that. How blind men are supposed to be able to police something they do not truly see? The lie of them;the lie of this place. I am the cleansing truth, come to tear it down.’

She came out of hiding in a swift movement of attack. He was ready for her.

022. Oversight

Oversight was the only group composed of different races, each operating in isolation from the races they came from. They had the whole picture to look at, and could make decisions that no one, not even The Group were qualified to make.

Greys, humans – both male and female, beings like those that composed the Group …it made for an interesting environment, one that forced compromise on everyone; compromises only made possible through technology that allowed the coexistence of their different bubble universes within the same spatio-temporally indexed location. It made for the occasional distortion; made for the occasional stressor upon one of their members; but also fostered a spirit of cooperation that each of the members saw as far superior to that of any of the groups they considered themselves senior to; which was all of them.

They had originally been set up by The Group, but of necessity no one in The Group remembered this – they had to be able to operate entirely independently, just like The Viragos, in fact in the way every facet of the agency was supposed to ideally operate.

‘Are we convinced that The Viragos can contain this situation?’

‘Well, if we aren’t it’s a bit late in the day to be raising the concern, isn’t it? Every failsafe system before this has dominoed into shutdown, so we don’t have much choice but to rely upon them to do the job they were designed for.’

‘I suppose.’

‘They remain untested – at least in an actual situation and not some simulation. We have prepared as much as we can – this doom-laden conjecture does little but to cause worry and spread panic. If we lose our heads in Oversight, then what hope can we have for our underlings? Is Bellwether dangerous? Yes, that goes without saying. Is it possible that he could overwhelm us despite all our efforts? Of course it is possible. It’s always a possibility. But as best as we can determine, The Viragos should be able to handle this situation for us, and if they can’t and the agency falls, then we will have to work out something else, won’t we?’

‘Of course.’

‘Yes, so why fret? Let the event reach its conclusion. We have exerted as much influence as possible, and now we must wait.’

Geraint (a human) and Xent, one of those of The Group’s race, were usually the most vocal members of Oversight, and best represented the two camps: the cautious and the proactive. Many held their own counsel while these two argued out the points of the policies they all generally agreed on. The decisions had been made, the actions taken, and now all they had to do was wait, and observe, watching through their carefully placed surveillance systems.

They would survive regardless of the outcome of the actions of The Viragos, but their lives would not be the same, and their level of influence would be severely mitigated; this was not particularly acceptable, but it was survivable.

Time to wait and watch.

021. The Viragos

The men did not know about the women. The women however knew about the men. Operating on a different frequency and in the shadows of their companion organisation, they were the tandem force that regulated reality, and were actually responsible for repairing any damage caused by their brothers in arms. It was not easy to operate as a parallel organisation whilst doing such work, but they were always considered to be a necessary failsafe when it came to making sure that if the system was ever compromised, only half of it would be subject to the failure.

Bellwether knew nothing of them – and it was designed to be so. Without anyone else knowing about them they remained safe, and after this incident they would retreat back into the shadows.

‘This is, Hera, at insertion point 1 on the main bridge – I am frequency dark and waiting for brainstem shutdown of the crew before de-cloakng. Can all team captains confirm arrival?’

‘Call sign Alpha, this is Call sign Beta … I am in position.’

‘Call sign Delta here – we are locked and loaded.’

‘Good, so the plan is, we wait for our brothers to be knocked out, and then we sit here and wait for this Bellwether to arrive, and then we school him on who exactly he’s been messing with. He gets to see the other side of the coin that no one sees.’

This was new territory for all of them – they had had deep cover agents placed here in observational roles before – secreted in bubble universes where they could see but not be seen, but they had never played the role of intervention before. It had never been necessary. This mission did not furnish them with all the facts because Oversight deemed some of the information that had apparently been fed to the male agents to be too dangerous and possibly infectious. Hera’s briefing had labelled it as a highly infectious memetic terrorist ploy that they were dealing with, and she was happy not to dig any further into it than that. Oversight had always done right by her, so she had no question at all about following orders.

She had no notion that she and her sisters were victims of the same mission that had gathered her brothers together, and if Oversight had its way none of them ever would. The channels the data had been broadcast on were already shut down and data-dumped. The damage was done with the men already. No investigation was needed. This wasn’t that kind of operation. All they had to do now was wait for the intruder to make himself known.

020. The Reveal

Sometimes reality comes crashing in; comes crashing in like a huge dirty tidal wave that washes away every vestige of what stood proud and monolithic before. The truth can be a revelation that elevates you and lifts you to new heights of understanding that you had never thought possible, or it can plunge you into the depths of despair. One man’s freedom is another’s hell, and all that.

Within the Agency at that moment to say that the entire broad spectrum of those emotions was being felt throughout the crew of every station, in the ranks of every field agent, was no exaggeration. The news was doing exactly what Bellwether wanted it to do – to cripple everyone … to make them so unable to see past the ramifications of what had been done to them that they froze. No one was tending the machine at this point. Or at least that was how it looked. It looked like everything was in free-fall.

Gathered from across time, from across worlds, from across realities, they had been brought here and their memories had been wiped. Wiped in such a way that their native abilities had remained intact, and thereafter they had been trained and programmed within the rules that the heads of the agency had set forth. Personalities adjusted, behaviour modified – whatever was deemed necessary in order to facilitate a highly functional, independent thinking, yet highly tractable force had been sanctioned and carried out.

Could they foind out who they were? Could they find out where they were from? Or were they doomed to remain the people they were now? The inventions of their abductors. No one was answering them – it wasn’t necessarily that no one could, just that no one was willing. This was a situation out control, and actions were being taken to remedy the failure of all the security protocols that should have plugged a security leak like this before even one agent was aware of it.

How long would it take to purge the memories of their entire agency? How long to reset everyone and then get them back up to speed? Of course they also had to take extreme care not to eradicate useful experience and skill-sets gained in the time everyone had been an active agent. The job was extensive, and true, it was like starting from scratch in a sense, but it was better than releasing the biological agent that had been primed and considered, wiping out all the current agents, and really starting over again from the beginning. So one radical choice was made rather than another, and he primary benefit, at least as far as Oversight was concerned, was that less collateral damage was caused.

019. Greys

Listening. Watching. Recording. Between the lines. The gutters of the page. The Grey Area – simultaneously a non-place and an every place; an angled and distorted reflection of all of reality. Phase in through notion of white-room; travel outwards through heavenly light template. They were born in the halls of amnesia, and the spoke in the flow of the Lethe. Look at them and feel your eyes slide off nothing. Where were you? What had you been doing?

Oil black eyes blinked – shiny buttons, nothing insectile.

They were in what they had christened a side-step universe; a place none could find unless they had a unique key. That unique key came from being born Grey.

The Greys did a job for The Group, and that was it; they wanted something which The Group could provide, and in exchange they provided a service. When the service was performed that was the end of it.

The Greys did their own thing and had their own agenda and they did not wish to be drawn into any conflict between this Bellwether and the Agency and The Group.

Every single ship was on alert, re-arming was made a top priority. No incursions could occur while they were being looked for. No plans could be moved forward with while someone was wanting to bring them to task for something. This was unacceptable, and they would be seeking repearations from The Group, if this whole situation didn’t combust in the way they were expecting it to.

Humans were combustible creatures, not given to patience. This whole series of events which they saw unfolding was not on a timetable that The Group had any control over. Bellweather was the driving force at the moment, and that worried them … humans, or whatever this Bellweather creature was, and it seemed close enough to human – human’s were emotion-driven, and it made them unpredictable. They had run scenarios plotting out countles possible permutations of the actions that may occur, but they trusted none of them.

They were not about confrontation. They had been called the dishonest manipulators by more than one race. They were not trusted. They never sought trust – it was a concept they found to be irrelevant – what they sought was control, and how they sought to achieve as by any means necessary. Their program, and it’s vision, and it’s remit, was looking at a longer term perspective than they believed anyone else was capable of. They saw themselves as superior to all; for them to take ascendancy was correct. If they could maintain distance and then roll out like carrion crows on a battle field and pick over the spoils, then that is what they would do. Sneaky bastards, and they knew it.

018. An Exchange

‘Hello, Gruff, my name is Bellwether – I have been following you and your invention with interest.’

‘You have? How is that possible? It isn’t exactly high profile.’

‘Come now, no time for false modesty … you know that word has gotten out about it and that there is a lot of buzz about its potential applications.’

‘I’ll be honest – I wanted to believe it; I know I have something good here … but I thought it might be just a lot of hot air. People tend to blow smoke up my ass just to get me to shut the fuck up about my obsession.’

‘I understand the problem. All of us have things that when we get enthusiastic about them, it can be uncomfortable for those who not so inclined to passion.’

‘Yes. So, you know about what it can do? Have you heard what I’ve been talking about as far as projections for future developments?’

‘I’ve picked up as much info as you have put out there. The ones in development – how far along are they?’

‘Well, they’re already loaded into the system … some of them are beta testing, and some of them are a little bit more basic, but they are all moving along nicely. I work on each one as the inspiration catches me, but I am always working if that makes sense. Do you mind if I ask what you intend to use it for?’

‘That might make you a co-conspirator.’

‘Wouldn’t providing you with the device do that anyway? Ignorance of the outcome doesn’t excuse the act is the argument, I believe.’

‘Ok, you have a point. You are familiar with the agency that regulates reality?’

‘Yeah, hard to be an aspiring reality engineer and not have an interest in them … it’s the level of expertise we all aspire to.’

‘Well, I intend to walk into their central command station and shut down the whole operation.’

‘You’re kidding, right?’

‘No, I am deadly serious.’

‘You know how dangerous just a single agent is, don’t you?’

‘Yes, I used to be one of the best of them.’

‘So, what happened? Why are you trying to bring them down?’

‘I worked in the unscripted realms, an incident occurred and let me put it like this – it radically changed me. As to why I am trying to bring them down – the whole structure they have built, every facet of the organisation, is built upon the foundation of a lie. A lie told by beings who think themselves above every consideration that governs the rest of us … they operate with carte blanche, and over these many aeons they have distorted and killed what we all could have become.

‘What was your name? Maybe I have heard of you.’

‘Bellwether not convincing, eh? Given up too easily? Well, it surely is what I call myself now. Back then I was two men … Bolus and Zaire. Even now I find it hard to think of that … some wounds never heal, Gruff, do not believe the lie that they do.’

‘See, I have heard of you. But how do you mean you were Bolus and Zaire?’

‘Where I went they had no understanding of separation of either consciousness or physical bodies – they thought Zaire and Bolus were broken halves of the same whole … and from that rough clay they fashioned me.’

‘For what purpose?’

‘So they could communicate with me. So they could teach me about this reality in which we dwell, and how it was once a very different place until The Group came in from outside. So that I could be a messenger, an emissary – a bringer of not only retribution but also of enlightenment. To punish the slave-masters and free the slaves.’

‘The slaves?’

‘Every single man who calls himself an agent was press-ganged into this. Ask one of them how they came to be in the agency and they will give you their vague implanted script of volunteering for the cause. But where you ask? And they grow distant and misty-eyed. But when you ask? And they grow angry and sullen.’

‘Oh, God, but how? How were they press-ganged?’

He whispered the word – because ears were everywhere: ‘Greys.’

‘The thing everyone sees when they’re abducted?’

‘Yes.’

‘OK.’

‘So, how do you feel about this? Are you still interested?’

‘From what you’ve told me – and I feel I am a pretty good judge of a man – it has more than the ring of truth about. It gives me the chance to contribute to something important.’

‘Thank you, Gruff. I will never let it happen that you have cause to regret this.’

It was an empty promise, but it was made anyway.

017. Something Happens

The fall into the bottomless pit of some hell, that was how he framed it. They were still being impelled through this featureless place, no idea of how fast or far they had travelled. He sensed that Zaire was some distance behind him, almost like he were being pulled on an umbilicus strung between the two of them.

‘Where are we going?’ he asked the nothingness. He got no response. He was surprised his mind had not broken yet, and he wondered how Zaire was fairing. Zaire had come out to the station a few times – they liked the anchors to be familiar with what their partners were working with … but looking at the process from outside was very different to daily dealing with the stuff of the Unscripted Realms. Being confronted with this much formlessness required a strong constitution; everyone in the Outliers was given rigorous psychological evaluation, as were Anchors, but anchor training was different.

Suddenly the sense of moving ended, the feeling that the umbilicus attached to Zaire slackened, prepared him for the moment when Zaire bumped gently into him. thankfully he looked to be in pretty good shape.

‘Where are we, Bolus? Do you have any idea?’

‘No, but the fact we’ve stopped suggests we may have arrived somewhere.’

‘It all looks the same to me.’

‘Me too.’

‘Spoken to whatever brought us here?’

‘No, it spoke once, but silence the whole way.’

‘How far into this space are we?’

‘I have no clue. Given the speed we were travelling and the amount of time we were travelling, if the physics even work the same out here, we may be pretty deep into this territory.’

A small light came on, and they appeared to be in a room. Then they were seated in chairs. The space was configuring itself, refining itself, as if the controllers of this space were pulling archetypes from their memories, tuning the space to something more comfortable. A figure began to form in the corner of the room … tall, slender, muscled, shiny black insectile carapace – it stretched and moved towards them like it wasn’t quite acquainted with the process of walking.

Bolus went to speak, but the creature raised a hand to silence him. It’s hand was large and it placed it over his entire face, and he dropped into unconsciousness as some kind of pulse moved through his body. The same action was repeated with Zaire.

The creature raised its hands and the bodies of the two men rose from their chairs, it brought them together, they were right up against each other, chest to chest. And then the creature fused them.

The man that awoke was confused, vacillated between both identities he had been, trying to fight against the sensation that he had become something and someone new.

‘What did you do to us?’

‘We fixed you. We are one, as is correct – you were separated into two, which is incorrect.’

‘But we were separate beings. individuals.’

‘Not how it is supposed to be – you were connected, we saw that this needed to be enhanced. This is not reversible.’

‘But who am I?’

‘We do not know — who are you?’

Hinterland Interlude

It is said that in the beginning before the Immaculate Author and the Inviolate Narrative, that the language of the universe ran untrammelled; uncontrolled. The elders told of how order was brought into everything and everything rejoiced at the order. Who brought it? The Group – that was all they were and ever had been known as. The Group came from outside and they claimed they had been tasked with the management of fledgling realities … they knew so much and possessed technology far beyond anything any being had seen before; they seemed trustworthy; they seemed like an answer to a question no one had even known they needed to be asking.

Some said the freely sung song was beautiful and that it promised so much; that its scope was unlimited; that it could be anything. That it was a river that had now been dammed and tamed – that it had been polluted. From free-flowing current to being locked in a circuit.

Earlier than the singing was the formless chaos, which remained in the form of the unscripted realms, and it was decreed that it was territory to be conquered. But at one point both the written and unwritten parts of this reality, so they said, had coexisted in a co-dependency that no one now would have believed possible.

The Group were their source of information about the nature of reality, and reality was policed per their policies. Few met the Group; few knew what they actually were, or where they actually came from … outside was more than a little vague. They trusted them though. Felt that they should be trusted and that they had their best intentions at heart, but who really knew?

No myths, no real legends – orders and command structure … a rigid reality construct: it excused so much.

016. Falling Into Nothing

Back in the pioneer days of the organisation most of the Outliers consisted of two men teams – an anchor who would locate a suitable planet to station on, and a scripter who dangle out into the chaos and begin to shape it. Jack Bolus and Travis Zaire were renowned as being two of the best – they had pushed the reality limits outwards at an astounding rate, and some of their creations were even starting to show signs of a tendency towards developing sentient life. The success of the program was carried on the back of unsung agents like them.

Not all of the unscripted realms were the same though – it was true that the mapping they had done thus far was a little closer to a mappa mundi than any real cartography; swimming out into “here be monsters” territory. No one really believed that there was anything out there though. Well, no one who worked directly in the guts of the stuff … some scientists had theorised that there may be creatures like those who lived at the bottom of the sea on most planets … able to survive in unfathomable amounts of pressure. If one thing was alive out there then would have to be a foodchain, and some kind of evolutionary ladder, and that led them to further speculate on what kind of intelligent life might be able to survive without reality as the framework for their existence. Philosophers talked of how reality, like the unpredictable physics of these areas may be totally alien. There was some agreement on this point – their understanding of the unscripted was growing, as their control of it grew, and these things needed to be looked at.

Bolus didn’t like these arguments about sentient life dwelling out there, because then that made them intruders, interlopers where they shouldn’t be, changing some poor creature’s environment; they were imposing order where it didn’t belong. He wished they would hurry up and resolve it, give him some definitive answers – not that he was going to go against orders, but he was a moral man, and hated the idea of causing damage to some innocent.

Bolus and Zaire had been recruited together and had bonded straight away – they would have long rambling conversations that touched on all these points. Sure, they talked it round and round and didn’t really drive through to a conclusion but it helped release some of the pressure.

Reports of the incident at station Zebra 1, Bolus’ station were sketchy to say the least. The blackbox had failed, the autosend report was never filed, and there was no one to confer with. The energy signatures they detected made no sense – they seemed to be a kind of energy never detected before.

The stimulation prods that they used to write the script into the substance of the unscripted had been coming up against resistance all morning. Syntax errors and grammatical mistakes were showing on the input monitor … errors that he knew he hadn’t made. There was also a degree of fray in subroutines that had been in place for months now – degradation that, in an established stable environment like the one he had worked so hard to create, should not have been happening. Nevertheless, that was what was occurring. He let Zaire know that the stability was compromised.

It was odd, perhaps it was just the conversations he had been having but he sensed intention in the damage. Could it have been a systematic attack? By who? By what? Was this about to turn into a first contact situation?

Over the next few days he watched the slow unknit of all the work he had done. Disheartening was not the word for it. He couldn’t understand it – nothing on the edit feed explained why this was happening, and after consulting the databases he discovered nothing like this had happened before. He recorded it all and transmitted it back to Central – they were as baffled as he was. The message from up-lines was to try and arrest the entropy and reverse it … the very thing he had been struggling to do. The advice was not helpful.

Hull integrity started to register faults; started to display the same fray as his work. What in the name of god was happening? He contacted Zaire and let him know what was going on; he sent emergency messages to central. The rate at which the station was decaying meant no one was going to be able to get there to do anything though.

They asked him if this was just happening – a reaction, or whether it was being done. He told them that he had no conclusive proof one way or the other, but if they were willing to take a gut feeling, he would say something was working on the station.

The first breach occurred a day later. He sealed off his living quarters and re-routed everything through the terminal in that room. The breaches came thick and fast, but for some reason, and this made no sense, his room did not depressurise; the station did not blow up. Normal physics were suspended it seemed.

When he woke he was no longer in the room, but he was breathing. He was in some kind of environmental pocket.

A high pitched sound began to squeal in his ears, it was adjusted to something more tolerable; somehow he could tell that it was struggling to find a voice and to form a word.

‘Come,’ that was all it said.

He began to move. Somehow he knew that Zaire, on the anchor planet was being dragged in too. That they were being taken somewhere. But where? As he looked ahead of him all he saw was the formless chaos. For as long as he could remember he had championed the pioneer spirit and had aimed to push boundaries and live on whatever frontier offered the most challenge. Looking into an expanse where no stars shone, feeling the rapid motion of his travel, he suddenly found himself wishing for the simple comforts of home. He thought about his mother.

Falling into nothing; falling forever. He curled foetal just before he passed out. Bolus became unscripted. Zaire became unscripted. Something had worked to write them out of reality. Something new.