Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Four Norse-Men of the Apocalypse

Our players:

Odin as the Conqueror
Thor as War
Loki as Death
Baldur as Famine

Four horsemen wait in the stables of heaven. There is much commotion and carrying on, with servants, cherubs, and all the ranks of angels rushing hither and thither. Hithtory is in the making and thith is no time to be dallying.

This is the end, after all. Soon history will be all that is left.

The horsemen are saddled and ready, but it is not quite the appointed hour and so they wait - a strange, intense calm at the centre of divine chaos.

Death is in pale robes. He is instantly recognisable, his face is a skull and bits of flesh still hang from it in places, particularly at the back where thin strands of black hair also remain. Death is glaring at Famine. To be fair, having no eyelids or facial musculature, Death glares at everyone.

“Why does Baldur get the black horse?”

The Conqueror huffs, “because, Loki, that’s how it is. That’s the way it is foretold.”

“But everybody knows Death rides the black horse.”

“No,” War corrects him, “everybody knows that Death is the Pale Rider.”

“Stay out of this, Thor. And how come he gets to be War, anyway? Why does he get the flaming red stallion and the giant Sword of Compensation while I get this pale, wasted nag. Why can’t I have Sleipnir?”

The Conqueror growls at Death, “because Sleipnir is my steed, Loki, and because no horse in the bible ever had eight legs, and because you’re a troublemaker, and because Thor is a finer warrior than you will ever be.”

War grins, “and more of a man!” He raises his flaming sword high, singeing the wings of a passing zephyr. Then he frowns, “what do you mean, ‘Sword of Compensation’?”

“Look at that thing, it’s even more phallic than your hammer, at least it’s pointing away from you this time.”

“Why, you–”

“Stop it! Both of you. Don’t make me regret bringing you along, Loki.”

“Bah. Fine. So why couldn’t I be Famine? At least Baldur has a cool horse.”

“Because you look like Death.”

War guffaws like only a huge man can, “face facts Loki, it’s in your bones, you really should learn to just grin and bare it! Ha!”

“Yes, very good, very witty. And whose fault is that? Who commanded I have acid dripped on my face for eternity?”

“I did,” the Conqueror’s voice is steely, “and with good reason.”

Famine’s voice is quiet, but strong. He does not look up as he speaks, “to me, Loki, you will always be Death.”

“Now, hey, I didn’t have anything to do with that; that was all a misunderstanding on poor Hodr’s part.”

“Oh, quit it, Loki,” Thor snaps. “We all know what happened. Anyway, Baldur just hasn’t been the same since he died. Look at him, he’s wasting away, I think he makes a good Famine.”

“Oh, yes, c’mon, everybody loves Baldur, blah. So when do I get to kill Heimdallr, anyway?”

“You don’t,” the Conqueror grows more impatient. “I explained this. Ragnarok isn’t happening, this monotheistic ‘apocalypse’ is. Just be glad I found us a place. And if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re the only four of the pantheon that anyone remembers I would never have chosen you, Loki, don’t forget that.”

The apocalypse is coming and the four horsemen will lead the charge. It will be devastation and chaos. The horsemen are doom incarnate. The horsemen are bickering amongst themselves.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Bliss Junkies

He was on fire tonight, laughing and dancing, living the rhythm, pure trance, pure joy. He was hotwired to the music, hooked on the harmonies. His feet caught the beat, bouncing and stepping as his hips twisted, his torso turned, his hands pushed and flicked to the oontz, oontz, oontz.

MDMA surged in his veins, lifting him up, levelling him out, connecting him with every other body in the room. The edge of speed in the pills pushed him onwards, ever onwards to dawn. Don’t think about dawn, just the music, the dancing, the love... the girls.

He was on fire. Everyone met his eyes, everyone grinned, everyone got it. Pure energy. Everyone dancing with everyone. And three girls kept circling round and back towards him, a dance within the dance. Circling and moving in. One pounced, kissed him, laughed and span away. Then the next, then the next. Circling, and moving in.

Desire surged in his veins. The girls beckoned, with crooked finger; with curvaceous hip and pouting lip; with fluttering lash and subtle and brash. And he followed, he let them draw him away, from the dance, from the rhythm and the herd. He let them touch him, lay their hands and their lips on him, and, out of sight, have their way with him.


He was cold. He felt drained, worn out. The concrete floor seeped into him, turning him to stone. He drew a ragged breath. Thoughts were jagged. Rhythm broken. Stutter starting, like his heart. Memories. Remember. Remember. Three girls. Lips on skin. Something like mist rising from him, breathed in. The ecstasy on their faces. His high sinking. Three girls. The last apologising, even as her eyes rolled back in her head and she moaned with bliss. His bliss, in her.

Torpor crept through his veins. His blood, his body, his mind were slowing. His heart beat. Beat. Stopped. Time coalesced, dripping languorously down the walls. Someone was beside him, then. The last girl, the one who said sorry, sorry, had slunk back. Drifting in slow motion. Apologising, again. Lifting him up. Looking in his eyes. Sparking something. A heart beat. Beat. Beginning to beat.

Reommended reading: Chimera, Inc. by FARfetched. Greek myth meets mad science via time travel.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

When Truth Came to Town

A Fable.

You came.

You called.

What... What happened?

Well, that’s a story. We have to go back a way... to a boy arriving here from a place down south. The folk here seemed glorious as gods to him, and he seemed bright and beautiful to them; so they welcomed him and he was glad to stay.

Now he was bright, and a quick learner, and soon enough he became a power amongst them. He became one of them, but the deeper he went, the darker it got. Over time, he grew disillusioned, with who they really were, what they really valued; he began to see the shadows and the claws.

It was then he came into an understanding of the world. He learnt that even with the power he had at his command, he could not change people, because people will not be changed unless it suits them.

He was challenged. He made his stand by Truth. And he learnt another lesson: that Truth is not the power it ought to be.

So, what became of him?

He left. He would not compromise himself, Truth, so he no longer had a place here. There was nothing left for him.

Until the girl.

The girl?

The girl from down south. Innocence. She came after him but he was already gone, his ripples settled to nothing but memory. She was taken by their glamour, as he was, but she found no power of her own and so they preyed upon her, drew her deeper and deeper, beyond the point she had the strength to survive. There was no one to take her hand, no one to show her the Truth.

Truth had abandoned this place, as these people had abandoned Truth.

The poor girl could not understand why things turned so bad.

How bad?

The details don’t matter. It was just a symptom of the situation here, the people. She had come as Innocence, in search of Truth, but instead she found Jealousy and Greed, Deceit and Pride; she did not recognise them and they swallowed her whole.

Then in her desperation she called out, to the one person she had never wanted to seem weak to; the person she had come here to find.

The boy from down South?

The boy. Who had become a man. Who had become Truth.

And she didn’t know what she was bringing here.

She had no idea. She knew he had been this way, but no one here spoke of him. Maybe he made them examine themselves too closely, and they did not want to believe they might be anything but the wonder and the power they showed the world. They shied away from the light he shone, even in his absence.

She called him, and he came, eventually. But she had fallen too far.

He found Innocence destroyed.

And the people here discovered that the longer Truth is denied, the stronger it becomes.

And he did... all of this?

He discovered that Truth was not so powerless as it had seemed, all those years ago; not when wielded fiercely, with no fear of holding back, with no concern for who might be harmed.

He tore down everything he had once loved. He knew these people too well and they could not stand against him. But when he was done he found himself empty, hollow, because he had been lying to himself; that there was still good in this place; that redemption was still possible. In unleashing Truth so relentlessly he had torn the last barriers from his own heart.

What happened to him then? To her?

He knelt down and he took her in his arms and the hollow inside him filled with a turbulent pool of sorrow and regret that tried to pull him entirely inside out. He felt so numb it was the most painful thing in the world.

And then she moved. And she murmured.

She was not destroyed?

Not entirely, no. Or maybe something of his power had caught her spirit before it strayed too far. Maybe Truth had granted him one last boon as its avatar.

And what did she murmur?

“You came.”

And he replied, “you called.”

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Orion and the Bear

Orion the Hunter wore old army boots, forest-camo combat trousers, a number of hunting knives and no shirt. He had two full quivers at his back and a yew longbow in his hand. His four companions, with their rifles, deerstalkers and hunting jackets, embarrassed, were trying not to look at his bare chest and well-defined musculature. On his torso a thin sheen of sweat glistened in the rising light.

The party was waiting at the head of a shallow ravine. Orion was the only tracker among them and this was the spot he had chosen. This, he claimed, was the path their prey took. Prey was hard to come by these days, but he had not let them down yet, so they waited.

In the hunter’s belt were set three gems. They must have been gems for the way they caught the light, but anyone looking close enough would swear they were eyes and anyone with the experience would swear one was a wolf’s, one a lion’s and the last a bear’s. Although not many people gained that kind of experience and lived to tell of it.

Next to Orion stood Randy Horwood. Before the Collapse Randy had been a mayor in these parts, and he still led the community where Orion didn’t take an interest, which was just about every facet but the hunting and the women. When the Hunter chose to impose his leadership though, people obeyed.

Randy fingered the scar at his throat. His radio crackled.

“Randy, this’s Gabriel, c’min Randy.”

Mobile phones had been one of the first things they lost.

“Go ahead, Gabriel.”

“I’ssa biggun, Randy. Big as all hell.”

“What is it, Gabe?”

“I’ssa bear, Randy, jus’ like what mister Orion said. A right big feckin’ bear.”

“How long till he gets here, Gabe?”

“I- Shit. Where d’e go? He were just there. I wes only scratching ma balls a damn moment.”

“We can still hear you, Gabe.”

The radio was silent.

“Gabriel? You there?”

Silence. The men looked at Orion. There was an intensity to him they had never felt before, a hard anticipation. They had never seen him smile, and he wasn’t smiling now, but it looked like he might and it scared the hell out of them.

The men looked at each other, nervous, until Randy broke the silence.

“What now?”

Orion never said more words than necessary; sometimes less. His accent was thick and certainly not American, though none of the others could have identified it. None of them had travelled far, even back in the days you could.

“We wait.”

They waited. The sun swam lazily overhead.

Randy lifted his radio but Orion put his large hand over the ex-mayor’s, halting him. It seemed to Randy that every particle of the hunter’s being was alert, testing the forest, searching for the bear. Orion left his hand there for just long enough that Randy began to feel uncomfortable, then he clicked the radio off with a warning glance and returned his full attention to the trees and the ravine.

The other three huntsmen, Brad, Willum and Billy Bob, died without warning, in a sick, crunching, slurping splatter of blood and chunks.

Randy’s startled cry ended in a wheeze of breath and crack of ribs as the bear knocked him down flat and stood on his chest. Randy struggled, suffocating, as the bear stood there staring at Orion.

The ex-mayor jerked and went still.

“Hello Orion.”

“Hello Bear.”

“Come for my other eye?”

The bear, still on all fours, loomed over Orion; Orion who was a giant among men. It had black fur that seemed to sparkle like a blanket of stars where the dappled sunlight caught it; fur that was tangled and wild and made the creature seem all the more fearsome. Where its right eye should have been was a gaping hole so dark and deep it felt prehistoric, as if looking closely enough you might see a tiny fire, and tiny people daubing paint on the walls: pictures of crude stick people with spears and mammoths and bison... and bears.

The bear’s voice was deep and unhurried, with rough edges like continents dragging against each other.

“The world is ending, Orion, why do you hunt my people, why do you provoke me?”

“It is what I do, and we have unfinished business.”

“You never could let things lie. Civilisations ago and continents away and still you can’t get over it. I beat you, Orion.”

“You cheated.”

“There were no rules. It can’t be cheating if there are no rules. The humans have destroyed everything, Orion, they have ripped the stars from the sky and cracked the Earth. Now is the time for mourning, not violence.”

“Now there is only time for violence.”

“You haven’t changed. You’re actually enjoying being back here, amongst them, aren’t you? It won’t last. Everything is coming apart.”

Orion drew his biggest knife. Its eleven inch blade gleamed.

“This knife is close to perfection. The blade was made by laminating different steels, each with their own properties, making it unbreakable, perfectly weighted and permanently sharp. We never had knives like this in the old days, in the old country. Do you think the humans looked at everything they had made and despaired that they could go no further?”

“I have never heard you so verbose. The world must truly be ending. Ha. And no, I don’t believe they destroyed themselves through existential angst. They have always been this way, always been self-destructive, they’ve just been getting better at it.”

“You may be right.”

“I may be right?”

“Either way, there is business I would have settled.”

Orion shifted into a fighting stance, the knife restless in his hand.

The bear grumbled a low sigh.

“Very well, Orion. But it is not how I would have chosen to spend my last days: with your death on my conscience.”

The Hunter lunged.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Neo-Samurai of Tokyo2

[tag blogger Xero for byline]

[insert vid-loop T2:223]: Hand-in-hand, two neo-samurai walk the streets of Tokyo2.

Teetee (as the locals call it) is a striking place, familiar and yet so very foreign. Not all the locals speak fluent Western, for one; some of them don’t speak it at all. There are the same super-corporates here of course, but you won’t see the clean, power-marketing aesthetics of our world. Beneath recognisable logos are marketing explosions, the mantra is clearly more is more. Like me, you will have seen stills and tubes, but nothing can prepare you for the bewildering, full-sensory assault that is the reality of a Teetee high street.

In this strange world the neo-samurai are perhaps the surest example of all our accepted differences. There are police here and they do much the same job as the boys and girls in blue back home, but it is the neo-samurai that bring peace to these chaotic streets. In a way that our own culture cannot countenance they are above the law, but they are a part of the law. As I entered Teetee I was required to sign a waiver of sorts, a document they went to great pains to make sure I fully understood.

If I am injured or killed here by one of the neo-samurai then I have no recourse for compensation or appeal.

They are an absolute. And they are enigmas.

I am in Nu-Rumoi [insert G-Map link] and the two neo-samurai I have just passed will be the only ones I see in this territory. This is their domain, though whether it was earned or inherited or won is impossible to say. Their traditions, like their identities, their technology and their training, are shrouded in mystery. They are unapproachable and incorruptible.

I ask the locals about the neo-samurai and I get wry smiles or good-natured laughter. I don’t believe they are hiding anything. I believe, to them, the neo-samurai are a part of the way things are, a natural process. They know no better than we do the solution to this conundrum, but they do not puzzle over it where our culture cannot help but be fascinated.

There is, I think, the essence of Honour in the neo-samurai; with a very pronounced capital H. In our culture there is too much intrinsic greed. Such a position would be too open to corruption or, at least, no one would trust in its incorruptibility. Here, it is simply accepted, and the neo-samurai pay back that respect with Honour and Justice.

Reb-Earth will never become the mono-culture some fear. There is simply too much of the strange and the unique that refuses to go away. The touch of Western culture is undeniable, but it is not the oppressor you may have heard, it has been absorbed, broken down, and its parts appropriated by these people for their own ends. I have only been in TeeTee two days, the difference is already startling and I’ve barely even begun to scratch the surface.

Recommended Reading:
The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
The internet, as imagined in 1909! Scarily prescient SF.

This is a short story (~12,000 words), so the ebook or Penguin's Mini Modern Classic edition might be an easier read than online. =)