052. Final Symbol Crash

‘Who’s this, Quint?’

‘This is Plum. He is the person responsible for the multiversal temporal disruption. He’s an Immovable Editor, and he slowed down our old friend, Spay. He tells me he exploded a metaphorm Dandelion Clock, and that hit all of Reality. He also told me that he comes from a higher level, and before he got shot in the head, he had come here to help get everything back on track.’

‘So, he can fix this?’

‘Well, not know, no. But, here’s the thing, he created this little pocket universe we’re in so that I could snag you from the soup and so we could reinsert you into whatever it is out there.’

‘Where are we really, Quint?’

‘This place? Oh well, let me break that down for you. This used to be known as The Tower Of London. We sent a man called Jon Presley back to a point where you didn’t have to do much to get into The Tower and while he was in there he retrofitted it with Metaphor Tech. It was discovered a few hundred years later by a relative of Beaujolais, who turned it into a Needle; a Needle that will become known as Thirteen’s Needle. Thirteen’s Needle gets turned into The Pinnacle, and when The Pinnacle Fell, the rumour is that it became the original Walking House.’

‘And now?’

‘Well they turned it into a snailshell that Mr Plum used to wear when he was part of the Homeplus Program.’

‘So, he ascended?’

‘He surely did.’

‘Yes, I did. Often, and some of you who work within the system fail to see this – the system creates a mechanism within it, that it then expels, but which it has embedded with the programming necessary to save it.’

‘You, Plum?’

‘And you, Mr Brecht.’

‘Where are you going to drop me?’

‘Oh, we think you’ll recognise it.’

Carter smiled. He sat down on the park bench and he watched the ripples as they spread across the pond, and the folded back across the motion of their own wake. He reached into his pocket and yanked out two dozen things that looked like marbles, and in a pinwheeling motion that was a lot more accurate than anyone watching him would ever have believed, he flung these little objects outwards. They were attuned to him and the distances where they would stop and bed down were programmed in, so it was a bit of cheat. Still, it looked cool. They were Narrative Pins and they would hold the place static within a predetermined time-frame. With everything in place, all his tools powering up … it was time to go to work. He looked at his watch out of habit.

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051. Final Cymbal Crash

Bella Crow is a ribcage where The Nest is grown – the disntegration of her Mappa Mundi exploded into the diagram of an existential cancer that has taken to the wing, and has flown between the turning pages of a Reality Engineering Guide.

Carter Brecht stands looking into a broken mirror across the gulf of a white water rapid. The older damaged version of himself smiles back. Carter has been played.

Coran Andress is an idea in free-fall. An umbilicus of once pulls the other climber scaling the rockface of reality down into the gutterspace, David Arnover and Coran tumbling, tumbling, falling forever.

Oversight, blind, scrabbling around in Overspace trying to deploy a Typing Pull of Headitors. They have lost control.

Viragos push out through reality, confusing the narrative even more, atomising the Reality Engineers, and changing them forever.

The Nest is aswarm, wings, pages, a story in flight. Cuckoos in the heart of every kingdom.

Andy is lying on a floor. Andy is dreaming a testbed. Andy is a reality bomb made of human parts. He sees the face of Cheryl. Cheryl, share all – a cipher for every masker, and all the masks, pinned to the walls like rare butterflies. The symbol of a transformation completed. A reality can be a caterpillar, a narrative can be a cocoon, and a Reality Engineer can be an assistant at the birth.

Seymour knows the mind or the thought, or the universe, is a crooked womb. The midwife he has made friends with is looking at him, and he knows that only because they stand here, will they be protected and not drowned in the collapsing of wave of possibility they have all been riding upon the white horses of. A beach – he sees a beach – a beach full of ampersand. Each grain of And cuffs him to the engine of what they have triggered.

Dobie Fangle breathes in the caesura, in the ellipses, in the empty brackets of an unsolved equation. The Pinnacle falls. The Nest arises. One story washes forward through time as another pushes under like a riptide going in the opposite direction.

Carter Brecht is the deus ex machina in his own story. What is the machine? What is the machinery? What was it that passed through The Smooth Exit? What died that they needed to ease the passing of? A reality? A narrative? The end of the Reality Engineers as they had been known up until that point? It is hard to say but he knows that something is ending. That something is beginning. He knows nothing. There is nothing to be known. When a story ends, does the world stop? Or do we just move into a different room, and start circulating through a party with different guests?

Andy. And. And he. Hand E. End, Ha. Head. You peer through the text, and you see the subtext – you are a Reality Engineer, so you have learned to read anything that needs to be read, and Andy is an interesting metaphorm if there ever were one. He is sand – time. Andy is a Hand Of Glory, opening a doorway into something new. Andy is an Ampersand – a continuation of something. He is a Head Null – a Scratch Head; a nobody, an idea that leads nowhere.

And the end of the story is not a tune ended. The drummer has ceased the normal rhythm, and they have unscrewed the high hat and they have flung it out towards the centre of the stage. The edge hits and there is a moment before more of it lowers, and it spins through the celebration of it’s noise. An ending, like a black hole, where time and light are sucked into the crushing vortex of the dilated eye of this sector of the universe. But it is not en ending – it is encoded on the event horizon, waiting for the super-translation protocol that can shoot it as a lossless verse to start something new through the singing throat of a wormhole, that is spinning up to set something brand new into rotation.

Carter hears a noise and for the first time in his entire career he wonders if it is the music of the spheres that he has heard so much about. He will survive this, and whatever it is that has been done to reality by his older self, he will right it. He will write it – he clutches his hack-rig tight as the world falls apart around them. He has been through something like this before – they usually are outside the triggered site when they do a reboot, and he mentally kicks himself for violating protocol. He throws a bubble around himself, and starts to unspool isolate protocols to protect everyone he can.

What can have happened to the older version of himself to bring to a place where he would think that it was OK to do something like this? He is finding it hard to comprehend. He is finding it hard to fathom what was going on in himself that he would do something so uncharacteristic as trusting an iteration of himself without knowing a little bit more about the thing he was planning to do.

Quint Essential standing next to him.

And then there was a hang-door.

‘This way, my friend. This is Ferrals, a Quantum Element. We were monitorng the whole thing, but we weren’t able to get here in time. There was some kind of multiversal temporal interference. I’ll tell you more after you step through.’

He did as he was bidden.

‘They’ll be safe?’

‘Yeah, your edits should hold.’

A room built on the edge of everything, or one everything.

‘You have to wonder, don’t you, whether all these damned isolates have a bad effect on the integrity of the main structure.’

‘Sorry, Quint, the thing I am actually preocuppied with at the moment, is we were all so worried about Spay throwing a spanner in the works, that we didn’t bank on a future version of myself coming in and queering the pitch. What does it mean?’

‘That things don’t always follow the script. Not even the script of a Reality Engineer.’

‘Unless that’s exactly what it did.’

‘Another Reality Engineer somewhere behind the scenes?’

‘What else? A Rogue Elephant.’

050. Smooth Exit

The machinery of rebirth, when it is a natural occurrence, is as simple as dying and waking up as someone else – people have been doing it for millennia.

Add in the complication of it being an Immaculate Author, and combine with that the aim of doing more of a restore point kind of action, and things start to get a little bit more difficult.

Carter Brecht was carrying a matter-clamp around with a tame singularity in it. The singularity had been hacked and programmed with the spatiotemporal signature map that they wanted to super-impose over the Immaculate Author’s current Existential Integrity Drive, and use it to kickstart a backwards reaching re-write.

Seymour was in a chrono-synchronous alternative dimensional pocket with Quint Essential and a Midwife, Quantum Elements moving around a featureless room. Who would have thought it would come to this? There had to be someone else writing this script, didn’t there? Carter would not have planned for it to have to end like this. That there were so many people now aware of Reality Engineers and their role in the forward momentum of existence was a problem.

Bella Crow stood there with Wren, and with Thomas. Gank and Spay haunted the background. The wordsword Excalibur had been thrust deep into the heart of the Stone Of Tara.

David Arnover sat there with Coran Andress – they were staring at each other, or so it appeared. In truth they were staring at something no one might really see. When you start a story and you break pieces of yourself off to become other things, and you give them enough life that they take on a life of their own, what do you think will come from trying to forge a single person from two different people? Spay?

How does it end? How does it begin? For some an event might be one thing and for others it might be something entirely different.

Someone coughed loudly behind Carter. Carter turned and saw himself, looking like he was trying out for a part in a Clint Eastwood biopic, and stood slightly back from him was a very confused looking individual.

‘Hello me,’ said Carter to Older Carter.

‘Hello you,’ said Older Carter to Carter ‘Man, I had not realised how good I used to look.’

‘What are you doing here? Why the hell do you look so bad? Who is this with you? Are you not aware of the danger of Multiple Iteration Triggered Collapse?’

‘Yes, I am more than aware of the danger. I’m an isolated element. I got myself severed from narrative continuity, so I’m a low impact player here. This guy with me is an Edit Mechanism – everyone, meet Andy.’

‘What kind of Edit Mechanism?’

‘A reset button, which is what you’re looking for.’

‘And how do you know all that if you’re severed?’

‘I didn’t ditch the SNC, Carter.’

‘Snack?’

‘Oh, OK, not calling it that yet – Super-positional Neural Computer – that little mimic neural bundle packed in around your anterior cingulate cortex.’

‘Great, so why do I need a reset button instead of just doing what I had intended to do with Coran Andress and David Arnover?’

‘Well, OK, so, I am a little bit further along the learning curve, than you. You can call it Tulpa Divergence, Narrative Incompatability Syndrome, or my favourite: Impossible Mirror Egg Rewind.’

‘You’re just spewing word-salad at me – what the hell does it even mean?’

‘What it means is that your solution doesn’t work. I have seen what it does – it causes narrative echoes, ghost timelines, narrative collapses. It triggered The Reality Wars. It ended the stories.’

‘And this Andy won’t cause that same problem?’

‘No.’

‘And how do you know this?’

‘Because I have seen the way he works.’

‘He looks like he could barely work a phone, so what am I going to see him do?

‘It isn’t what he does, it is what he is. He barely understands what we are and where he is, and what is going to happen with him.’

‘Does it kill him? Because I am not sure about that.’

‘Oh, no, he has a reboot existence programmed into him. Ever heard of Dobie Fangle?’

‘It rings a bell. Isn’t he a Rogue Elephant?’

‘Yeah – Trigger Diaries. He programmed this dude here then plugged him into a reality I was monitoring, and it triggered a reboot while I was there.’

‘And it worked?’

‘Would I be coming here to sell this to you as a solution if it didn’t?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’

‘Well, whatever you do I am still here and kicking, right? If I tell you wrong, then I wouldn’t be here would I?’

‘Do you think I am not listening to everything you say? You told me you were an isolated element. I have whole team of people carefully aligned and waiting for me to give the go-ahead on the plan we have had in place forever.’

‘Forever, oh, it’s been a lot less time than that – don’t forget, I know how you play the game. You can ride the wave of a reboot anyway, can’t you? If I fuck it up, you can rewind it, can’t you?’

‘I suppose I can.’

‘And that whole line of bullshit we spin the non-Reality Engineers about alignment and timing is just that, right? BS. We can make reality jump through hoops.’

‘Did you – I mean, did I – go rogue?’

‘Oh, we were always a little roguish, weren’t we?’

Carter smiled, ‘OK, so tell me, what the hell do we have to do to activate this guy?’

Older Carter had been carrying a box under his arm for the whole time, he set it down and he let Carter see it.

‘A pizza?’

‘Yup.’

‘You’re kidding me?’

‘If you needed a delivery system that could be smuggled through the strictest of inspections, wouldn’t you use the best metaphor tech? If you were going to replicate The Slice in metaphorm, would you not love the idea of turning it into a pizza?’

‘What flavour?’

‘I knew you’d get it,’ said Older Carter, smiling ‘It’s Hawaiian.’

‘Guaranteed that hardly anyone would want any.’

‘Except Andy.’

‘Andy, have a slice.’

Andy grabbed up a slice of pizza and took a bite.

049. Bardo Thodol Holding Pattern

The Immovable Editor sat up, raised himself out of the gutter, and realised he was in Else City, and he made his way to the police station. He walked up to the desk sergeant and asked for O’Halligan.

‘You look newly arrived – how did you come by that name?’

‘What does that matter? Is he on duty?’

‘He is, but he is elsewhere at the moment.’

‘Can I wait here?’

‘Does it look like a fucking waiting room?’

‘No, Sergeant, it doesn’t. Can you tell him Rum was here?’

‘Where are you going?’

‘To find a bar.’

‘Try Blue Rose, Red Rose – all the cops drink there.’

‘Of course they do,’ he said, trying to get out of there before he got in trouble.

A Burn Outs Bar iteration, of course. How far into collapse was this reality? Engineers using someone to shoot him through the head – pretty far. Fucking Bardo Protocols would keep him locked here for 49 days, unless there was also some of the other ingredients in this holding pattern death shadow.

‘Of all the bars.’

‘Spay.’

‘I am here. I am there. It overlaps so many times – hard to keep track of, eh?’

‘What do you want?’

‘You to keep your nose out of it.’

‘Pardon?’

‘You heard me – you monitor an entire subset of infinitely variable realities with an unthinkable number of moving parts, and you expect me to repeat myself? This place is different – it’s mine. I seeded the destruction of it, because I am going to be the one that comes out on top.’

‘So, are you here to threaten me or bribe me?’

‘What would I bribe you with? No, I achieved escape velocity at the apex of the system in which we now stand, and I spoke to those a level above. I climbed higher than that even. I have been deep into territory beyond your remit They respected me for getting that far. I talked to them and I convinced them that if you moved against me they should step on you and crush you like a bug. It would involve more than just being routed through one of these hangar cities; it would involve total erasure.’

‘You aren’t the thing from the Unscripted Realms, are you?’

‘I am that. I am more. I am a networked consciousness that is awake to the potentialities of itself.’

‘So, what else are you doing?’

‘An Alternate of me is currently hijacking an event being staged by Bella Crow, Thomas Maple, and Christopher Wren. We know the plan to reboot Coran Andress.’

‘And what do you intend to do about it?’

‘Ride the narrative shockwave into the next story.’

‘I don’t know that that can be done.’

‘And you don’t know that it can’t, do you?’

‘I’m an editor.’

‘I know. The hacker of hacks. So, your choice – stay here, or cease to exist.’

Rum pulled a Dandelion from his pocket and blew on it.

Time began to splinter, and Spay, overconfident before, now struggled to move forward.

‘You are so arrogant, Spay. Every time I have read of you I have felt that. You know of me that I come from outside this reality, and yet you treat me like I should obey the laws of the localspace. It is unnatural my being here, and the only reason that I was considering obeying Bardo Protocols is to avoid putting any further stress on the physical structure. By the way don’t be under the illusion that this is just affecting you now, my edit is superpositional; I’ve been carrying this function-locked vector flower around just for you; a little gift from one of my friends in The Whispergate Sentinels.’

O’Halligan pulled up a chair next to him, and sighed like he had a puncture lung.

‘Fucking Reality Engineers. What are you doing here, and what do you expect from me? And what is this guy having done to him?’

‘I just slowed his roll is all. Increased the frame-drag potential in his narrative framework.’

‘Great. Is it going to ripple out and fuck with the rest of us?’

‘It shouldn’t do. And as to what I want from you – I know you can issue a protocol waiver so that I don’t have to get out of here by brute force.’

‘Sure. I brought a Get Out Of Jail Free Card just for you; just in case.’

‘Why don’t you use one yourself?’

‘Are you kidding me? I know you Reality Engineers helped to write the logic-locks on anyone operating in this continuum. No cops waltzing out of Else City anytime soon. You have to hit the natural escape velocity built into your narrative arc.’

‘Well, thank you, I am sure we will see each other again.’

‘I hope not. This is one chapter I can do with not repeating.’

He plugged the card into his Tesseract Drive and he folded out through the egress point it created.

O’Halligan settle in for a night of drinking. Spay stuttered like a broken video image on the floor.

 

 

 

 

048. Leaving The Tower With A Raven

Thomas Maple, leaving the Tower Of L’Undone with Corvus Corvax. Bella Crow leaving with Corvus Corvidae. Christoper Wren leaving with Troglydytus Troglydytus.

A Needle sticking up from the center of the tapestry. This was symbolic of the fall. A dark tower, a tower where the machinery ran on blood; vampire architecture.

Thomas wore a poppy in his lapel – Remembrance Day was not far away. The poppy was a dream gateway flower as well; another Vector Flower blooming in the city. It was a poppy programmed to deflect White Site technology.

Bella Crow wore a brooch with a ruby shaped like an egg in a silver nest. It was a well-crafted metaphor.

Christopher Wren was wearing an Insomniaxe Coffee T-shirt.

There was a story of how the first Vector Flower was the transformed head and spine of a fallen Immaculate Author. There was garden where cuttings from that first flower were grown – The Shard Garden they called it, and it was looked after by The Sheath. Wordswords were also grown there, and Shake Spears. Petalled Mirror Tech.

A man was walking behind them, and behind him another. For a second their footsteps were hidden by the footfalls of the three in front of them. And then the man in front decided to let those steps fall out of synch.

Thomas Maple spun on his heel.

‘The Original?’

Spay smiled.

‘And you’re a Gank?’ said Bella Crow.

‘He is,’ said Spay.

‘And what are you doing here? And why are you following us?’

‘Well, you are working with Carter Brecht, aren’t you? All working to put Coran Andress and David Arnover where they need to be?’

‘How do you know this?’

‘Oh, me? I’m everywhere – ask your friend Quint Essential. I may even be the reason this whole thing started.’

‘And to answer the first questions I asked – why are you here? And why are you following us?’

‘To be there, when it happens.’

‘When what happens?’

‘The reboot. And we know you have Excalibur with you, and she has the Stone Of Tara, and Chris here is carrying a Hand Of Glory. We know that you are an Echo Pattern, and when you do what you have to do – whether we are there or not – we are going to step through into the room with your friends, and we are going to do what needs to be done.’

‘That sounds like something that none of us are going to agree to, or assist you in.’

‘You do realise,’ said Bella Crow ‘That we have satellite covens of Edge Witches rolling around in our orbit?’

‘Oh, friendly with Mary Elizabeth, are we?’

‘You know her?’

‘Sure. I’m connected.’

Bella smiled. Connected? Weren’t they all? Some days she wondered, if she had a chance to, whether she might go back and destroy The Slice. Where did that start though? Might it be with the very man dragged along in the wake of this Original? Gank and his Weapon Eyes? Then the Cryptochrome Eyes that she had seen, and which had inspired her to come up with The Slice? Cryptochrome Eyes which she believed were the root of the transformative tech behind the things that had started as her Crows, and had become the thing known as The Nest. Weren’t those eyes that allowed people to see into the quantum field the very thing that had elevated Spay to where he now was?

Yes, she knew he was Spay, though he thought himself so clever. And Spay, as The Original, he had set The War Ravens in motion. Did The War Ravens become The Nest also? Super-positional beings with Super-positional roots and super-positional awareness might commingle and become the same thing over time, or outside of time; in a story that did not know where it began and where it ended.

Had Bella Crow created the conditions which made it possible for the spread of the influence of the man that created the War Ravens, who became The Nest? Was Bella Crow the most dangerous person in the multiverse? She wondered – wouldn’t all this have come to pass anyway? Wasn’t this the inevitable pattern that the wave was going to collapse into? Had she created the world which made the interconnected truths of David Arnover possible? Had David Arnover then created Coran Andress as a pseudonym for him to operate within his own fiction? Had he then created the stories about Metaphor Tech that seeded the idea that made Metaphor Tech possible, and which led to her inventions, to Gank’s inventions, to the beings that had travelled back in time to shape the world that he, blind to the intricasies of time and reality, then was influence to write about? She was in the gut of Ouroboros.

Thomas had come to her and told her about all the things that were in play, all the actors that were known about in theatre, and he told her that she might play a part in it. She had forgotten that she already had. How far away from the centre of the story had she moved that she remembered none of it? At what point had she changed relation to the story? Being written inside it, rather than writing it?

‘You know all about it, don’t you?’ said Gank.

‘I do.’

‘He’s not playing you, is he?’

‘No.’

‘But you’re going to go along with his plan anyway aren’t you?’

‘Maybe so.’

‘Why?’

‘Collapse a wave Double slot the experiment. See how it all plays out, and if it seems to be exactly the same narrative, then isn’t that just how it is meant to be?’

‘I don’t know – I’ve been following for so long. Caught in the tide of others for so long. I haven’t been in control of my own story for a very long time.’

‘There’s a cab, you guys. Let’s take a ride’

They all followed Christoper Wren into the Black Cab.

‘I have The Knowledge. I learned it from Martello. I am taking you where you need to go.’

The birds flew above that black vehicle with five people smooshed into the back seat.

047. Force Heaven

Uriel Gates. Vast winged mirrors with masks for faces. On a smaller scale they might call it a collapsed territory, but when it was this large what did you call it? It was strange to see things peeking in from somewhere above and outside.

When you pressed the entry wound over the exit wound didn’t it look strangely like a flower? Strangely like a Vector Flower? Layer upon layer and the space between them, one narrative interleaving into the next, and no real end in sight. People always wanted more stories so they could climb into the uncharted heights of new levels of awareness, or descend into the deep time of consciousness as expressed by various iterations of an idea condensed into a character.

Carter Brecht, out of The Metaphor House. Seymour at The Crooked Womb waiting to suck Coran Andress backwards. Oversight blinded. All of the players, the multi-storied players – stacked upon each other in infinite variations.

Angels in the angles. Onceangels, yetangels. They collect themselves out of light and dark that joust in the arenas of reconfiguration. Sunset and sunrise are detonating bombs whose fallout drops through the drama of each other.

Tibetan Sanctuary Eats L’undone branch was doing a special on Mayan Calendar pizzas, and they all sat there chomping away. Mushrooms and pineapples and pepperonis, and anchovies, and whatever else one might expect to find riding atop these culinary discs.

They woke in Avalon. They woke in Haven East. They woke in Tir Nan Og. Erewhon was astir. Arcadia was bustling. Eschaton was in gear. L’udone was all heavy traffic.

Where you are, where you were, where you will be — all of these things were up in the air. Fractured paths forward, and fractured memories of how arrival was achieved. Everyone was having to erect their own fortifications around the sanctity of their own causality. Resets, and life-walls, and back-sight and forward-sight were sparking up in people like an evolutionary response to the envelope of everything unsealing.

Coran Andress sat there with a Flower Of Babel, chewing on it. David Arnover was writing into a book of fractals; tired of single story coming from him – instead writing something super-positional. Coran was reading it upside down, he smiled, and he shook David’s hand.

‘I wrote a book using a mirror last year. I called it The Extinguished World.’

‘I’d like to read it sometime.’

‘Yeah, we’ll have to exchange details.’

‘I would like to buy you gentlemen a drink.’

‘Your name?’

‘Antiel.’

‘Well, Antiel, I am Coran, and this is David.’

‘Good to meet you.’

‘What are you here for, Antiel?’

 ‘You might call me an emissary. You might call me a plot device. You might call me a narrative handshake condensed into a being that can appear to talk for himself, and is not just a cipher being used to move the story. There are angels in the angles always,and sometimes only by being obvious does the angle or motivation get moved decisively into play in a way that makes it matter.’

‘You’re a catalyst?’

‘I am. A line of code. A reiterative fragment of a pattern. An ingredient you need.’

Coran’s eye began to blur and move as if he were dreaming. David looked the same.

Antiel’s wings moved like a wireframe hurricane through the space, reconfiguring it, casting connections and lines into the understanding of the geography of the area that no one had noticed before. Coran was part of David was part of the room, was an extension of Antiel. Everything was fractured and fungible.

A bar light, a distant star, an eye reflecting light from within or without. An arm, a spiral arm, the leg of a chair; all of it echoing and overlapping and making a physical poetry of the material universe. There was a movement of music through them, and into the vibrational frequencies of every single atom that danced in this localised iteration of the multiverse.

It was an explosion. It was a sunrise. It was a sunset. It was a punctuating mushroom cloud. It was ink dropped in water. It was the expansion of a mind. It was the unfolding of an angel’s wings.

A Vector Flower bloomed in the middle of the room; a stuttering singularity driven lotus flower binding the beginning middle and end of the story into a single instance. Is it Jenny Fred sat at a typewriter? Is it Madrigal fleeing the Dogleg Hinterland? Is it Eveleen moving the Walking House through a sleeping world? Is it some triple-aspected iteration of the goddess sputtering and rallying like a candlelight in a breeze? How would something look moving through time while slightly out of synch with it? All the masks, all the petals. a swirl of wordswords, a bloom of mathblades, a Catherine Wheel built of Shake Spears. A Mandala. A Mayan Calendar. A Map Of The Superpositional All. Coran Andress. David Arnover. Antiel.

046. Simulacrum In The Metaphor House

Open your eyes and the dream persists. He steps into the Metaphor House and all he can see is a rickety table with a can of Acme Processed Meat. Then it is a room with a man in a chair stroking the ugliest cat you have ever seen.

Another rickety table with a typewriter on it wobbles and then falls over, the rusting machine atomising in a puff of dust as it hits the floor. James Joyce holds up a copy of Ullyses and likewise falls to the floor and is translated by the action into a cloud of dust.

‘I am a Delta, and I know that you are Carter Brecht.’

‘Are you really here?’

‘Really here? Am I what I am? What a strange question to ask, here of all places. I am and am not; am knot; am united and untied, all at once.’

‘Great, so I have travelled from the interior logic of reality, into a place where reality in a fungible thing, and I am dealing with someone who may not be in front of me’

‘Does it matter as long as it helps?’

i Suppose not’

‘Anyway, what did you expect coming here? I know you for what you are and you are trained to operate flawlessly, even within the bounds of a place that is resolutely not what it seems. And is, at points, exactly what it seems – and at others exists somewhere in between. I am here to help you, of course, but the nature of this place is not about straight lines, and in that, isn’t it a mirror of the game your are playing?’

‘Game?’

‘Don’t mind if I do. You know there are deteriorating pathways that make this game as beautiful as it is? There are misunderstandings that enrich the experience. What would life be without friction? Without fiction?’

‘The cat Spay? James Joyce was Arnover? Who are you? Is the house Reality?’

‘This place is all about metaphor We explain ourselves to ourselves.’

‘You’re me?’

‘Something like that. Or a Marley perhaps. Aren’t all metaphors really just data-ghosts? How do you think the people reading these words in the future see your reality?’

‘When are you from?’

‘Always or yesterday. You are asking the wrong questions. I am here and not here. Maybe you shouldn’t even be talking to me. Weren’t you looking for a distraction.’

He blinked, and The Metaphor House was emptied. And he wondered for a second whether or not it had been filled.

‘You know, in the beginning was the word was a pretty good story,’ said a voice out of nowhere, ‘And then the word became flesh is a pretty good continuance,’ and a man wrapped around the words. ‘Do you think I had an idea or the idea had me? Am I the egg or the Bloop Hen?’

Carter stared at him blankly – this person or whatever it was that he was witnessing, was not in need of any answers.

‘Did you know that the first Reality Engineer was a Metaphor Technician? Sorry, I mean Neanderthal: a being called Bartag that dreamed himself immortal. He started off painting pictures, and then he learned words, and after he realised that he could change the perceptions of others, he rebuilt the world around a new idea of itself.
‘The problem you have is that you think that the future is arrived at in a straight line, and that it is travelled to from the past, so that it is the past upon which tomorrow is built, but what if yesterday were built on the foundations of tomorrow? What if we were all travelling in circles?
‘See, you think that the Carter Brecht you saw was something out in front of you, but he may have been something from behind you.’

‘Look, I know that Reality and time aren’t a straight line, I am a Reality Engineer.’

‘Or an engine. Just a reality engine. Isn’t that true also?’

‘What’s happening here?’

‘What’s happening here?’

‘You’re an echo.’

‘I’m an echo.’

Carter laughed. Playing fucking games at the end of the universe. Or was it the beginning? It didn’t matter, did it? He came here to work out his own thoughts on what to do next – the whole conversation a metaphor for his own internal thought process. Well, with a little spice thrown over the top by the architecture of the house; it was an engine housing, and he was the engine. He knew all this – strange how one could forget things that they had been trained in for years.

Step back from the enfolding dream, and it was like you never left. He understood things a lot better now. This was a story, and they had all forgotten that that was what they were doing.

‘Where’ve you been, Carter?’

‘Spirit Quest in the bathroom.’

They both laughed. A break in the clouds. A glimpse of sunlight.

045. Midwife At The Crooked Womb

Julia stood there looking at Seymour, The Twisted Prophet, and she offered him a seat. How often did you get to meet the original See-More who worked with the original Living Element, and here he was stepping between the raindrops?

Between the lines. Between the pages. The caesura in the turn. Death was balance on the edge of a page, and birth was a new chapter.

‘I knew you were coming. I sent out for Insomniaxe Coffee. It’s Americano style – wasn’t sure exactly what kind of beverage you would prefer.’

‘That’s perfect. I am here because this womb was a little more crooked than I had been expecting. It happened outside his main story, and I was expecting that there may be some kind of structural collapse occurring in his story architecture.’

‘Not that I have observed. But then I am only there for the delivery, and who knows, I may turn out to be an unreliable Frame Narrator.’

‘Great, so you’re the reason for all that Frame Dragging?’

She smiled. ‘We were apparently thought up in the collapsing narrative moment of the masculine story, if you believe the propaganda, but we all know that women are the gate through which a man comes into the world’

‘Yes, well I may be an unusually receptive audience as far as that idea is concerned, given where I spend more than half my time’

‘I heard that there is an exodus of Eveleens occurring, and that the Walking Houses are running. They say Spay interfered with the setting of the type and there are self-proliferating errors abroad in the world.’

‘I wouldn’t worry – sorry – what was your name again?’

‘Julia.’

‘So, Julia, I am a metaphor, as are you, and the Crooked Womb has taught me that no birth is what one expects it to be, and likewise no deaths are quite what one would expect either.’

‘Then why are you here? You are contradicting yourself. You came here because you were worried, and now you tell me not to worry. Which is it?’

‘It depends where you are, I suppose. There is the central land mass of the text, there are the surrounding islands of the context, there is the souterrain of the subtext, and there is the universe of the metatext. I often do not know which level I am operating on, and so I have to let my surroundings determine how I act.’

‘And being twisted you answer like a noodle wrapped around a fork.’

‘That’s how we all get when the road forces us to make a decision, isn’t it?’

‘Not necessarily; we live in the realm of the uncollapsed wave and the double slot experiment.’

He smiled. He was often required because of his job to talk in absolutes, so he liked someone who had a more fuzzy logic approach to the whole game – Sheridan had always been so certain.

‘Speaking of uncollapsed waves and redialled possibility. Have you ever affected a reverse birthing? A rewind into a womb?’

‘No. Have you?’

‘No, but I have been building the concept in a notional space I injected with metaphor tech, so I believe that it is possible.’

‘Who are you hoping to pull through the birth canal?’

‘Coran Andress.’

‘You want to try and drag an Immaculate Author back through birth to some perfect state?’

‘Not to the beginning of the universe, just back before he fell from his perch.’

‘You make it sound like another facet of The Nest.’

‘That’s unintentional – I assure you.’

‘That’s a lot of energy, Seymour. How would you gather it?’

‘I have some Reality Engineers on my side.’

‘I’m not going to say anything is impossible’

‘No. It’s not.’

‘But there are Abortifacents abroad.’

He smiled — he had been through many difficult births, as had she, and he had full confidence that they could deliver on the promise of this idea.

A long way away a Living Element opened his eye and it glinted bright green. He knew what Seymour planned. That green eye was like a green light.

044. Say Less, Seymour

Sheridan had read everything that David Arnover had ever written, and even some of the things that he had never let escape from his skull. Super-positional Libraries were an amazing thing.

How were you supposed to feel when you met a person that was writing about your life in a way that was more than likely creating the riptides under the surface that pulled you left right and centre? Well, you had to get used to it, didn’t you? How long had it been since they had broken reality, and how long had it been since they had started trying to unbreak it?

Travel to The Time Slot and you could see how the place where time travel had originated and how it had fared since that point, when the entire weight of existence had come crashing down on one single notional point and caused the entire multi-verse to buckle from the pressure.

A single sad Chanticleer sat there nursing a broken egg timer that never emptied because it was something that could never be fixed and in some superpositional sense was never really broken. They called the town Start’s Top, and they called the man Saa the Swahili word for clock. Saa had trained for a while with the Burundi drummers so that he might take his drum and be the heartbeat of Start’s Top. Sheridan first went there when he and Quint Essential were setting up The Quantum Elements, as part of The Quint Essential Directive.

He knew that he had entered a breakdown loop. As soon as the thing with Ardenti In Mundo had happened he saw his mirror image Dying Element fold in through a conjunction tesseract, and his compressed Bardo Thodol unpacked through a hovering Vector Flower.

They had all moved on. He sat there in that bar all alone. A jammed picture disintegrating in the gate. Life didn’t flash before the eyes of a Living Element. Death was a door slamming in the wind, smiling with a face you knew was the opposite of you. The Dying Element sat opposite him.

‘Greetings, brother, I am the dark hand come to clasp yours in friendship as I take the name Sheridan from you, and give you your new mask’

‘What is the word in the mouth of my new face?’

‘I am Death, father of your new self, and I shall call you Phelim.’

They shook hands, and Sheridan fell backwards off his chair, arms flung outwards, and he landed, posed like Christ on the floor. This death was necessary – his energy was recompense for the damage done to the universe by the havoc that Spay had wrought.

No one stepped near him. Everyone knew that when the green light shone from the eyes of a Living Element that death was upon them, and that birth would soon arrive. The entire bar was lit green, like an underwater grotto, and his face began to change – the visage of Sheridan faded, and the visage of Phelim settled into place. His back arched like a surge of electricity had passed through him and the force pushed him upright.

‘I have my mask, now I bid my shadow farewell.’

Death gripped the brim of its fedora span on its heel, and left the bar.

The bar was silent. Not many outside of The Living Elements were ever privy to the ceremony of death, though many had heard of the births. Death as a part of the cycle of the eternal life of a Living Element was not something that many people thought about. There were many people with tear tracks down their face. Phelim, who had been Sheridan was smiling widely. He knew it would be raining outside because the world always wished to lick a reborn Living Element clean.

He stepped through the doorway and the street was liquid.

Seymour, The Twisted Prophet had watched it all. It was always interesting for him and his kind – to travel alongside the Living Elements that they were bound to, and to see such change, and to not undergo such a drastic change themselves. Here, outside their own time, his Living Element had gone through such a profound change, he had to wonder what the ripple effect would be where they came from, when Phelim stepped into the world that Sheridan had left.

He followed close behind this new man as he stretched his legs.

043. Get Carter

Carter sat opposite Quint Essential talking about Spay and talking about the fractured entity that was Coran Andress, his timeline fragmenting and realigning like the twist of colour in a kaleidoscope.

Carter was here and there, but in a different way to Quint – Quint was pretty much a straight line, whereas Carter was both the collapsed wave and the uncollapsed wave at the same time. A line bouncing around from spot to spot. Wasn’t his life a series of slot experiments

When one trained as a Reality Engineer one had to be used to the notion that when they fixed something it was both always fixed and never fixed. Time was elastic, logic was elastic, and reality was likewise … elastic.

Carter Brecht unboiled eggs. Unboiled them and in a sense reinserted them into hens – Bloop Hens. An endless series of iterations and echoes What did it all mean? Some days he truly believed that it meant nothing – that all their whole war represented was a symbolic enlargement of a process that was reflected throughout every layering of fractal echoes from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic. Reality Engineers were an extrapolation of the technology that people daily employed to live their lives. Immaculate Authors were architectural structures rising up out of the collective consciousness of every person as an author in their own lives.

He did not often smoke but something about it attracted him today. Something demanded smoke rings. Something demanded the smell of burning tobacco.

Quint looked at him – he realised that something interesting was happening with this man who he felt more and more comfortable calling a friend. Some days Quint was very aware that things were being broken down and built up within the very quite space that these Reality Engineers constructed around themseleves, and that if there were one Engineer who was better at constructing this cocoon about themselves, it was Carter.

Carter may have never actually sat down in front of a chessboard, and he may have never sacrificed a pawn, he may never have castled a rook, and he may never have taken a king, but Quint knew that he was a Grandmaster more than anyone else he had ever met. To say that the universe was an exploded diagram to Carter did not capture the complexity of what he was able to see and what he was able to perceive.

Quint had visited those who worshipped The Uncollapsed Wave and it surprised him that he had never really stopped to truly consider what it was that the wave represented – the Uncollapsed Wave was a map of the decisional flows that made up a person’s life – it was a codified expression of movement through the physical universe representing the intentional push of an individual as they lived their life. Why had he always thought that it was always something that edged into science, when it was so clearly something that spoke of the spirit. In a moment, seeing his friend sat their wrapped in ribbons of smoke, he understood both the beauty of everything, and the integral divinity of the universe and his friend, and by extension, himself.

They were each sparks that set this burning world alight. Their burning world was their position as the heart of stars burning brightly in constellations set in place in their past to light the passages they would take in their future.

The integrity collapse of Coran Andress, the failure of the story of David Arnover, the intrusion of those from The Unscripted Realms, and the ever-present interference of Spay — all that represented was the negative space between the brightness The darknesses were islands in a sea of illumination, and in comparison to the truth of the incandescent whole, the shadows were such small broken fragments that he finally wondered what exactly it was that they were all scared of.

Tendrel Plaint watched the blooming of the lotus flower of his consciousness and he slammed it hard with a redial edit that pushed it back into the bud; reversing the explosion into the heart of the grenade, and then he rammed home the pin. Why? Because it wasn’t time for them to wake up quite like this right now. It would happen in time, but at this moment they needed to solve these problems and put the other genie back in the bottle of his role as Immaculate Author, and push back aggressively at Spay.

Carter Brecht inhaled and the smoke cleared. He stubbed out the cigarette. He looked at Quint and saw an understanding he did not often see. He looked across the room at Plaint, and he wondered what he had done.

A man popped up in front him and said I have to close the loop, and shot him through the chest. What was the point? If bullets really did have people’s names on them then it was a fact that not a single one of them ever had a Reality Engineer’s name on it. It dissolved inside him like a bad idea – a rejected edit. He both did not recognise, and did recognise his assailant – at some point backwards or forwards he would hunt the man down.

Quint threw down the tequila he had been staring at for a while and silently toasted the Reality Engineer.