Fight the future
This is a continuation of my previous story. They work together.
III. thank god for girls.
I had my father’s witches seal my heart long ago. They wrapped it in stone, sealed it in amber, and gave it to back to me in an urn of black stone. One of them had put a ‘Break in Case of Emergency’ sticker on the back, which I thought was a nice touch. I remember how light the urn felt, and the cold aura that radiated from it. I remember placing it on my mother’s shelf in the vault, fully intending to never retrieve it, and walking out into the sunlight. I remember how cool the sun felt against my skin.
I sealed my heart away because I could, because I wanted to. There was who I wanted to be and who I was and, well, one was in the way of the other. I don’t look back because I can’t look back. The past informs who we are; the future is the only thing that matters. I made a promise that I intended to keep: I will be there to fight the future.
My father is dead but his ghosts remain, soaked into every fiber wire and microchip, every repeater and router. He’s more powerful now in death than he was in life, but it is a passive, subtle power, a fact that would no doubt enrage him in life. He used to roar and rage at the world. I remember fear, soaked into the walls of each room, as he stalked through the rooms of his empire, my tiny legs struggling to keep up. The world made him furious, with good reason, and he had bent that anger into something impossible to ignore.
I was 11 when he sat me down for an impromptu physics lesson. On the whiteboard he drew a diagram. Here is an asteroid hurdling towards earth. Here is a rocket, with a payload, trying to knock it off its path. You don’t need to stop the asteroid, you just need to nudge it, deflect it. Here’s the math, here’s the force required. I remember his face-calm, collected-as he patiently explained to me exactly how dead we all were in this scenario. This is where we are; this is where we have to be. I remember being on the verge of tears, and my father trying, and failing, to comfort me. “We’re not dead yet,” he had murmured, holding me tight.
I was 16 when he sat me down for an impromptu lesson on legacy. Those five years had been hard on him. He was old now, decaying in real-time. He was balding, graying, his skin had lost its golden luster. He had built an empire, carved it out of stone, butchered those in his way, and it had taken its toll. I remember him weeping; he had so much left to conquer. His fire had dimmed, cooled, stilling his heart. He hated that he would be leaving with his work incomplete.
“Here is the future hurdling towards us,” he said as he drew out a familiar diagram on the whiteboard. There was the asteroid, with the rocket headed toward it.
“My work was my attempt to change it,” he said, pointing at the rocket. He continued his diagram. The Approach. The Collision. He paused here, not looking at me, before finishing. The Aftermath, where the asteroid was barely deviated in course.
Quietly, he faced me. “As you can see, I failed.” His shoulders slumped, a gesture I’d never seen from him before.
I remember nodding, barely understanding. At the time, my idea of the future was of a gooey, amorphous entity. At the time, I knew only my father’s intensity, leavened by occasional moments of deep compassion. At the time, I was still a child.
He rose to his full height, some of the old fire returning to him. “It will be your turn soon. You are now the missile I point at the future. This is your birthright.” He was looking past me now. “The mantle I carried will soon be yours.”
A grim smile.
“But I’m not dead yet.”
He died, eventually, at the time and place of his choosing. There was no grief at the funeral; I certainly wasn’t crying. It really functioned as a way of allowing everyone and anyone to see that yes, my father really was dead. The Fire of Isal had finally been quenched. His empire crumbled away, looted and picked at by the same scavengers that had gawked at his dead body. I spent no tears on this either. It had served its purpose. Its time had come.
As his empire faded, I faded with it. I had things to do before I was ready to begin, and I didn’t need any attention in the interim. I took stock of what assets I had: the witches, my father’s true name, and money. It was a good start. It would have to do.
Time went on. I went to school, met some people, met some people, made a few enemies. Sometimes it felt frivolous, and sometimes it felt like it was the most important time of my life. It was nice to be surrounded by other people who were also trying to steer history, even if they didn't dare think of it in so grandiose of terms. It was nice to not be alone.
I could always hear my father in the back of my mind, comforting me, reminding me of what I had to do. “Don’t start sprinting,” he’d smile, “until you know can survive it.” And so I prepared, as much as I could, for it turns out that even the daughter of the Fire of Isal has limits. I prepared, and I watched.
The world lumbered forward without us. The scavengers had turned out to be decent empire builders themselves. My father’s death and the subsequent Split had caused some chaos but the Orphans had ended up surviving, and even thriving. There were things in deep storage that ended up making some of these companies a lot of money, and some of those even changed the world in tangible ways. I was surprised my father had never deployed some of those things, but I trusted that he had had his reasons. Besides, he was dead, and there was no one left for me to yell at.
IV. are you done setting the table yet?
Finally, I felt ready. I decided it was time to surface, maybe even time to sprint. The witches had fed me whispers of something uncouth happening in Tansu, something weird, something unplanned for. Bizarrely, it involved idols, idols of a group I liked, no less. Rumors of enhancements, of real post-humans, living amongst you and me. I wanted a look. I’m sure my father would have done something bold, but I am not my father. His approach had its turn. We will try my methods now.
I got lucky. It turns out the group was hitting the mature phase of their lifecycle, and members were moving out, splintering ever so slightly; the witches helped me move in.
I’m Sarah now, which fits. An honest name for an honest person. My roommate is arrogant, generally pleasant, and absurdly pretty, all of which I knew before meeting him in person. He’s also loaded with tech that I didn’t even know existed. Genuine surprise is so rare to come by, and I find myself enjoying the sensation. I think he knows there’s more to me than meets the eye, but I am, for now, more than happy to observe. We circle each other like sharks, too into the game to clash directly. It’s fun, and I find myself creating rules to increase the challenge. Today I’ll tell as much of the truth as he asks, tomorrow I will lie my way to the moon. I got a job as a barista-I needed practice interacting with people-and waited. Maybe he could help me fight the future.
The whole idol movement fascinated me as soon as I learned about it. I’m in university, it’s 2am and we’re watching ancient videos in an ancient dormitory. The witching hour, when all good things happen. We’re the last ones awake, still powered by alcohol and stimulants, when Benjamin learns from an idle comment of mine that, in his words, my upbringing had been insufficient. Idols, pop music, now this was something essential for my education. He launched into a history lesson, spinning a tale of capitalism and evolution, globalization, compromise, and survival. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything: concepts, gimmicks, technology, the Summer of VR Madness, the list went on and on and on. The next day was ruined as a result.
It all had the sheen of something not quite real, humanity wrapped in gold wrapped in humanity for layers and layers and layers. I was enthralled. It was fantasy for the material world, rendered by all of the physical talents that the human body could host. Stars were triumphs of storytelling; raw talent could only get you so far. Learning how to tap into the zeitgeist was essential to survival, and those that failed faded into history. Empires rose and fell but the churn was eternal. The idea of constructing of an entire mythology, artificially seeded but organically grown, was right up my alley. The empire had failed my father, but maybe something more human would work. And everyone was so beautiful.
It was about a month after I moved into Maarten’s apartment that things went to shit. We had visitors in the night, a trio of classic, timeless goons. They melted the door to get in, which seemed excessive in my eyes. The gun seemed excessive too.
It looked like they were after me and not Maarten. Another surprise. This was too many surprises in too short of a time. Maarten, being the gentleman he is, decided to place himself in the way. How sweet. Unfortunately, the goons didn’t like that. Things escalated to shouting, gun pointing, an entire drama in my living room. To the goons, Maarten looked supremely out of it. To me, this could be nothing further from the truth. I could see tech lighting up inside of him and it scared me. I hoped he knew what he was doing.
When Maarten made his move, he hit me in the head with his elbow in what was, I think, an attempt to knock me out. It didn’t work. Regardless, I took the hint, and went down hard, thankful for those acting classes back in Uni. I was thankful, too, for what I witnessed next.
Every piece of tech in Maarten lit up at once, and he started to move fast. Really fast. He was glowing, too, possibly due to heat. I didn’t have the best view, laying as I was, sideways on the floor, but I could see him outracing the gun and breaking down the goons as easily as one might dismantle a rotisserie chicken. He looked almost bored, distracted, his eyes suggesting his mind was a million miles away. This child|man|god might be the key to all of this. We weren’t going to punch the future into place, but, well, maybe we could. I’d have to think about it.
My mind was still racing when he finished. Three men had entered and three men were now on the ground. Oops, now there were four men on the ground. I had to laugh a little; Maarten had fallen headfirst on the large one’s ass. I think he overheated. Peace had returned to Apt 16-34.
I guess it was time to figure out how to salvage this. I’m sure The Company would be here any minute, and I didn’t like tangling with them any more than absolutely necessary. Cops would show up too, but I was less worried about them.
Spoiler: everything worked out just fine. It turns out that one of the goons, the one with the tattoos, had pulled double duty as a jamming goon, so there was no documentation for what had occurred. Everyone seemed pretty annoyed about this fact; Lieutenant Whatever started swearing immediately, Mandarin Whoever broke his serene facade to place an angry call. I told everyone who asked the truth: Maarten had fought them off somehow. I showed them the bruise on the side of my head, and told them that I didn’t remember much beyond the initial encounter. Clearly, I had fallen over and hit my head. Clearly, Maarten had been brave and I had been scared. It was a tale as old as time.
Lieutenant Whatever made a big show of ordering me to stay in Tansu until a time such that the investigation had sufficiently progressed such that I was no longer necessary.
I decided then that Lieutenant Whatever was an idiot who shouldn’t be allowed near any form of language, but I pledged my support. The Company’s Mandarin just bowed and bid me a good day, leaving me alone in an apartment missing its front door. It was 330am now, and there was no point in going back to sleep. It was time to make a phone call.
“Hey, Benjamin? Yeah, it’s me. I’m Sarah now, by the way. You want to make some money?”
They let me visit Maarten in his hospital room the next day. I was surprised, but I guess he had spoken positively of me to his keepers, and I hadn’t thrown up any red flags while living with him. Getting to the room was a bit of an adventure, as news of the attempted kidnapping (of him, not me, apparently) had broken, as had news that he had fought them off. Fans had formed a cordon around the hospital, which was very cute. Wasn't it a school day? Luckily, none of them recognized me, and I was able to get in unchallenged. The witches had, again, more than earned their keep.
I was scanned and patted down at the door by the two professionals watching over him. They told me the bare minimum: that I was allowed in, and that I had an hour of visitation. An hour with an unconscious person is, in my opinion, an excessive amount of time. Still, I watched him sleep for awhile, counting the lines on his true face. He looked different on stage-older, more erotic-but here he was innocent, young, unburdened. I felt a whisper of sadness (more surprises!) as I realized that this might be one of the last few moments of peace he would experience for a very long time. Oh well. The world waits for no one.
It was time to leave. The witches warned me that the room was bugged, but you’d be amazed at what gets overlooked in our brilliant future. A slip of smartpaper, coded to his DNA, for example. I covered for the drop with a kiss on the forehead, a gesture I was told would not be too indiscreet if I aimed for matronly.
I have no idea if I hit my target or not.
I didn’t know how long he would be out, but I didn’t have time to waste waiting for him to surface. Those goons were for me, not him, and I needed to know why. The paper would have questions for him, and some answers, if I didn’t make it back soon. I tried to make it as gnomic as possible, to better match his impression of me. First line: Welcome back. Second line: The game continues. Third line: Time flies when you’re having fun. The witches and Benjamin, united once more, had found some leads on the goon squad, and I didn’t like any of the possible futures these leads raised. It was time to take a trip north, to the Vault. It was time to take a few of my father’s ghosts out for a spin.