Knowledge is stolen from the gods. Scars are washed. Torches in the dark.
Written and performed by Michael Meinberg @meinberg13
Tracks “Spider’s Web” “Blue Feather” “Angevin” “The Complex” and “Awkward Meeting” by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
I struggled within the vast mindscape that stretched out before me. My body was dying, I could feel it in the slowing of my breath and heart. The rigors of my time in the cell were proving too much for my flesh. Slipping away seemed easy in that comforting void. I could just fall apart.
But I couldn’t give up. Something pulsed within me, and I gazed down onto the hungering masses. I knew that would be my fate if I surrendered. I would be reduced to mindless hunger, with the workable parts of mind sectioned off to form the backdrop of the world. The strength of my desires would be co-opted to power whatever dreaded force compelled all of this forward.
The core mind behind it all remained too disparate and too protected. I couldn’t strike back through this void, not directly. But I descending into the white and allowed my senses to become subsumed by it. I merged my mind with these countless others and formed a tapestry of the land. I saw with a thousand eyes peering through the city.
Chaos was rising on the streets, instigated in the time since my imprisonment. Too many had been consumed too quickly, and the underlying fabric that allowed the city to continue in its orchestrated fashion fell apart. Chants and cries lifted on the words of workers as they took to the streets for the first time in their lives. Riots and strikes flared openly.
Some were sparked directly by this controlling mind, these deliberate attempts to create chaos, and it allowed them to rise to the top. I could feel the longing to control and use the righteous anger of the oppressed as a means to slip to the top.
But in other places, the mind merely watched as the discontent rose of its own accord. Here, a restaurant closed because its head chef had been consumed, and the patrons descended into riot -a minor inconvenience becoming a spark in powder. There, a workshop owner burdened his employees with the shifts of those that had been consumed. The independent workers threw down their tools as a boundary was finally pushed too far, and threw their employer from a window.
And dozens of puppets, the remnants of those consumed by the communion, lurked outside an abandoned factory, watching those that come and go. Their numbers increased by the hour, flooding and filling the space, forming a mass to contain, or perhaps protect, the nearly collapsed factory. Steam emerged from the broken structure, pumping into the clouds above.
My fingers curled into fists and I pulled back. I stared at the Agent before me, who was locked in concentration in their attempt to break me, in their attempt to make me like the puppets or like themselves. My mind’s eye followed a silver string from the back of their skull, and it disappeared into the void. I grasped a hold of that string and pulled with everything I had left.
The Agent twitched and attempted to close off the connection. I pulled harder and the grey liquid of their mind emerged from the sea of souls. Their mind coiled back into their body and the Agent gasped in sudden awareness of self. I allowed the connection to break then, and fell into a sobbing wreck, struggling to lift myself into a seated position.
The Agent stepped forward and offered me a hand. Their face still registered nothing but shock, but I took the hand and rose unsteadily to my feet. I slipped an arm around their shoulders and they took on the burden of my weight. I told them that we had to get out of there. Numb, they agreed.
The puppets guarding the door turned on as soon as we exited. They seemed confused for a moment, and I used that confusion. I opened my mind to theirs, and traced the silver thread for both of their minds simultaneously, dragging them back into their bodies. The pain of reconciliation must have been higher for them, as they collapsed immediately into limp piles on the ground.
As the Agent carried me towards the exit, they asked what I did. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t have the words then to conceptualize what my brain was going through. Everything was so abstract and distant, so cold and alien. Even now, it’s difficult to put things into words. But the constant testing forced me to grow stronger and faster than most. Being constantly on the losing end of confrontations forced me to learn or to die.
And I refused to die.
The rest of the way out of the spire went unnoticed. The building had been emptied out, leaving no one to resist our efforts. I needed food coffee and fresh clothes; so after we emerged into the pale dawn streets, I directed the Agent to a nearby cafe. I could begin to regain my strength there.
Along they way, they introduced themself as Sam, and apologized. I could tell the weight of what they had done while under the influence of that outside mind rested heavily on them. So, I accepted the apology as graciously as I could, though speaking proved difficult. A haze settled on me, exhaustion and malnutrition playing havoc with my thought process.
This neighborhood stood in stark contrast to the one that I had seen in my visions of revolution. The structures were more elegant and maintained, and the people that went about their work wore more formal clothes. The easy quiet of the space seemed at contrast with the visions I had plucked, but the calm only had me more on edge.
At the cafe, we found a seat inside, in a corner away from prying eyes and where we could watch the doors. I ate my fill and then more-greasy eggs and bacon and toast. I drank probably a pot of coffee all on my own, but still my body longed for nothing more than sleep. But I couldn’t sleep yet.
While I ate, I questioned Sam about what they knew. Turns out, they didn’t know much. They had learned, through back channels, that their Autocrat had opened up a nanoscale manufactory. Sam proceeded to do all the research they could, trying to get to the root of the reasoning. But then they were drugged with the water – everyone in the spire had.
With their minds opened by the nanomachines, they had been easy prey for whomever was connecting them all. Sam thought it was their Autocrat, but I was less sure of that. While Sam’s Autocrat opened the door, I doubted they would construct these kinds of nanomachines. Something here resonated on a deeper level than a simple corporate plot.
No Autocrat would have wanted the amount of the chaos fomenting on the streets. No, an Autocrat would be looking for short-term profit to find a way to turn these nanomachines into a product they could bottle and sell. This usage of nanomachines spoke to a more profound reasoning, but one that was less explicable.
With my food finished and the bill covered by Sam, I rose to my feet and then immediately collapsed. Again, Sam offered me a helping hand, making our way to a hotel. Fortunately, Sam had Agent money, which meant they could afford a room as long as needed.
The room proved to be quite well furnished, though I didn’t pay much attention to the surroundings; but instead crumpled onto the bed, still wearing all of my clothes, and drifted to sleep. I don’t know how long I slept, but when I awoke, it was pitch black outside, and I had been stripped down to my underclothes.
Sam sat in a plush chair by the window, passed out. Laying across another chair was a set of fresh clothes, looking to be my size. I showered, allowing the hot water to rinse away the sweat and ease the bruises. I gazed down and saw my ribs sticking from my chest, the pale flesh hanging off of my bones.
But I emerged rejuvenated from the shower. I could stand, at least, and could finally breathe for the first time since I entered the spire. I dressed and the clothes felt so good, clean cotton on my clean skin seemed like such an alien experience. And they fit, even to my slender form, though I did need to tighten the belt. I watched Sam sleep as I pondered my next move, considering if I should bring them with me, and then prepared to leave. But I hesitated at the door, and returned to grab a notepad and pen.
I left behind a note thanking Sam for their assistance, but telling them I had to finish things. I knew where the nanoscale manufactory was. The vision of the abandoned factory burned itself into my mind, and from seeing a handful of street signs, I was able to piece together its location.
I couldn’t, in good conscience, drag anyone else in where I was going. The danger would be too high, the risk too great. But for all of my desire to handle things on my own, there was still one more person that I needed to talk to. And I’d need some money to help grease the wheels, so I deftly separated Sam from their billfold, careful not to awaken them.
Then I departed.
Night had wrapped up the city, and the chill wind whipped my hair and the tails of my coat. I wrapped my overcoat tighter around me, but let the rain fall freely on my head. I need the nanomachines that it would grant. I couldn’t handle the withdrawals in my current condition. And I needed my mind open, so I could see the threats around me.
The streets were quiet for most of my journey, and I passed only a handful of individuals hurrying about to get to their destinations. Twice on my way, I felt the probing of another mind trying to gain entry into my fortress of thoughts, but they paled in comparison to the light of the mass gestalt that I had been dealing with, so they were easily cast aside.
But even in the absence of people, I could feel the boiling resentment in the pavement beneath my feet. It rumbled below, no longer quiet, but singing for release. It ached to be let loose unto the world, for all of the sins of the Autocrats to be laid bare, for the fine machinery of the city to be undone.
I couldn’t disagree with the sentiment, but I knew that now was not the time. If the anger was released now it would feed into the hands of an even greater tyrant. A revolution now would simply enchain the people to a power that would control not only their finances but their very thoughts. First, that threat had to be removed, then things could change.
As I neared my destination, I saw a crowd up ahead. They held torches in their hands, the flames creating a haze in the air, clouding the sky above in smoke. I could see the brilliance that rested within several puppets, the leaders of the crowd. They exclaimed to the crowd, mostly working-class young men, that the only path forward was in revolution and in fire.
Then one turned toward me and I felt the probing pressure on my mind. But I kept it at bay as my defenses were too strong. And then a voice cried out that I was one of them, one of the ones keeping the people down. They pointed and claimed that I was to be made an example. The crowd surged toward me and I darted down an alleyway.
The path was not familiar to me, but I knew my destination well enough from my last journey there. I constructed the map in my head, trying to imagine the path that would lead me to my destination. I turned and turned while the crowd continued to follow. The voices of the leaders roared around me, painting me as a devil, as another tool of the Autocracy.
Their torches cast a red glow over the surroundings, and despite the hour, discordant music blasted out of windows as I continued to run, my legs threatening to give way with every step. But panic drove me onward. A young man sitting on a stoop called out to me to stop and pay the toll, but then blinked at the crowd following behind and ducked into a building.
I turned one more time and ran into the chest of a man with a broad build and deep, tawny skin. He carried what looked like a metal tube with a wooden handle attached to it. I had never seen such a tool before, but the man threw me aside with one arm before turning the tube onto the incoming crowd. He pulled a trigger, and an orb of blue light shot forth, skittering over the walls before slamming into the front of the crowd and bursting. I shielded my eyes from the burst of light, and as it faded, the crowd lost its momentum as the ones in front collapsed in heaps on the ground.
I took advantage of their hesitation and reached forward into the minds of the leaders. I yanked with all of my strength, and brought their minds back to their bodies. They stumbled and blinked, clearly dazed, and the crowd begin to back away, disintegrating as the source of their fervor faded.
I turned to the man with the tube and told him that I needed to see Frederich. He nodded and turned, leaving the crowd to disperse as he escorted me the rest of the way back.
The makeshift factory continued to hum despite the late hour, and I found Frederich tinkering with a few pieces of metal and what looked to be a hinge. He looked up at me expectantly, and I kept things brief.
I told him I needed a bomb.