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—— Earth F67X: the Asomatous Détente & Terrestrial Customs

When Ilaria flutters up to the service desk, it appears unoccupied. Opposite the gold-flecked slate surface, she sees nobody. Nor, really, anything other an inchoate whirling maelstrom. Worse, it is mostly free of clutter. Only one item of note rests upon it, an antique gilt frame. Therein pictured is a Ghibli-esque depiction of a demonic black feline gasconading its dull, opaline wings, flared feathers reminiscent of a painted bunting’s. Malefic rosso corsa eyes reflect forbidden abyssal sigils and hint at hunger, narcissism, and a haughty ego. Scrawled in black sludge on the picture frame is the message out to lunch — Tāwhaki.



While angelic and innocent, Ilaria is no fool, and defies the infernal ruse. She locks eyes with the catmonic creature in the picture and politely, but firmly, requests, “Excuse me, may I go through?”

No reaction, but as the minutes pass, the cat’s cloying ceases to entertain, so it sighs, and stalks out of the picture frame, a consecutive three-tailed taunt brushing underneath Ilaria’s nose. Flames accompany each tap of its amber claws against the slate slab, and it turns its rear to her, tails aloft, glances over its shoulder, and huffs, “Mark your name, god-slave, along with your destination, reason for your terrestrial sojourn, and the names of the humans you desire to vex,” — and taps a foreclaw on a piece of parchment that was not present prior.

“To whom am I speaking?” Ilaria demands.

Reclining on the slab directly in front of the frame, which now houses an erupting volcano, the feline licks its paws slowly, ignoring Ilaria, but eventually gets bored, yawns, stretches, and replies, “Tāwhaki, drude and prince of Balam, unrivaled magician, seer of past and future, gestalt of lies, spawn of fire and ash, and ...” he allows for a dramatic paws, “duty agent of f67x’s terrestrial customs and metaphysical portal containment and control.”
White, weak light splays through a pane, intermittently illuminating a dew-warped reality in pulsar flashes complementary with a siren’s baleful wail. A world beyond his reach, increasingly distant, redshifted. Along his bewildered periphery, it forms a hole in the sidereal blur within which aperture clarity reconciles and digital mountains rise and crash. Rusty, cramped mountains with shattered pits for eyes. To him, they feel dead, and with him by chance or fate in passage intertwined. Ice knots up inside his gut, he needs to hurl. He can’t. Can’t move. Still, a few wink, offer hope—beatific, bright, neon, shimmering. He cherishes that, the light and its melancholy, anodyne lies. He mourns its transience, pattern ever less periodic and ever more by darkness deformed.

“Hafadac, you’re going to be alright.”

Na~ah, he can’t articulate to rebuff, chemically sluggish and suspended from concern—ethereal. A cloud. A rain cloud. If only, ... if only he could gather his thoughts, exist beyond those argent pulses, ... care.

Eye droops, blinks, refocuses. So suave, his yellow and black kicks. Prized possessions, second only to his hooded jacket, similar color motif, but rather than abstract interlace it boasts eastern dragons racing down either sleeve. Must’ve been opened up, chill air and latex pressure probes inside his abdomen.

There’s so much he’d like to say, but his mouth won’t open. A gurgle, he hears—sanguine, the texture, not the hue. So much he longs to do, but his limbs lie immobile, his body inert. How can he denounce that acerbic stench or recoil from the roving six-eyed beast if he can neither plead nor flee? The light blinds, but the room is dark. Relentless, the wail drones on and on and on and his mind conjures up a tundra, two wolves, one dead, the other eternally mourning.

Finally it—zot swallows him, lured by his careless, carefree nature.

Tears trace down his cheek like Tetris blocks.
— ⚈ —

This feels right, Hafadac reflects, roused from a peculiar insight, a flash of portent between the when and the now.

Rump firm atop damp, rough concrete. A weird, cratered moon peers down at him, his vision captive. No need to shiver, he embraces the brisk foretaste in his soul before it robs him of warmth. Sonorous, distant, poignant, he hears the toll of a bell, as though it heralds an important moment.

Dunno where I’m at, how I’m here, who made me whole, but ... feels right. Dunno how else to put it. Better than ... what? What happened?

You there, Khodai? This Elysium?

No lingering musk.

Seated, propped up by a metal pole, detached, itself wedged against the floor and the wall of this large, dark, liminal space. Firm against his back, not sharp, piercing, penetrating like—well, perhaps best to dwell on that later. It feels empty, if only because he’s there again, in that moment. White, weak light. Reality on pause. No strobes, no darkness, no many-eyed monster. Just constant airy peace drifting on a night wind. Present within himself, in the lull, Hafadac breathes serene and silent. Waves break against the wharf, reliable, reassuring. Across the way, a dillapidated warehouse, vast sheets of aluminum pulled from the sides. Easy to see into. Starlings in the rafters, broken skylights with shards of glass lining the window frames, and beams that stretch on forever, foreshortening into an artificial horizon.

Now, the time is now.

Palm braced against the floor, Hafadac lets his wet eye rest, stands, and listens.

» “Alight, DLC dropped — I have good news — ” ...
» “If this goes violent — Come closer — □□□□-□□□□-□□□□ —” ...
» “We have to celebrate! — Be quick about it! —” ...

As desired, an eye in the storm. Photoreceptors in his digitized mask dim a brilliant arc display that fades to muted gold, this world cast in the light of his own blood. Three souls he feels an inexplicable bond with, strangers whom, in so brief a spell, he is too dumbfounded to assay. Pristine chaos saturates the milieu. ‘Ivory’ dashes for the door, ‘Skeksi’ speaks, and ‘Pillar’ rumbles. Meanwhile, Hafadac’s half-gaze settles on the dazed middle-aged man holding a large stone.

Cheeks hollow, clothing torn, the man’s appearance speaks to his begrimed and desperate but, as yet, undefeated spirit. Tenuous and selfish, yes, but it strikes Hafadac that this person and his comrades grasp at life, clinging to a narrow implausible hope that their crimes, as yet uncommitted, might improve their dire circumstance. So he strides forward, wraps his arms around the guy, back-taps, a real bro-hug, and, voice mellow, deep, soothes, “Hey, buddy, uh, just wanna let you know it’ll be alright. Keep blinkin’, you’ll see again. Say, wanna hear a joke? Yeah, yeah. Why did the Mexican take anti-anxiety meds? For HISPANIC attacks!” Another firm open-palm thump on the man’s back, and he steps back, catches the rock as it drops, and nervously tosses it from one hand to the other.

A pained chuckle and the man muses, “That’s messed up.”

Rather than ruin the moment, Hafadac’s half-mask flashes indecisive between a bright yellow pixelated half-smile over a winking eye and a thumb’s up icon.
—— Earth-F67X: North Capital City: the Mainline Defensive Array

Dom burst through security at the Mainline Defensive Array with a badge flash, Trimble Place entrance. Almost fell down the wet tile stairs, but grabbed rail a blink before kissing the on-duty MP’s polished steel toes. Good luck, Trimble was right off the lockers; made sense, most military personnel domiciled just north of the array mid-island in relocated mid-century brownstones. By the time he reached his locker, he hopped on one sneaker until he dislodged his other foot from his sweat and rain-soaked gray sweatpants.

I smell like ass, but ...

Thoughts luxated and out of breath, Dom shoulder-smashed the adjacent metal cabinet, span his combo, popped the door, grabbed a bottle, and doused himself in cheap cologne. In retrospect, might’ve been better to let his musk migrate from civilian grays to combat greens. Too late, he needed to be operational. Almost presentable, he sprinted another kilometer and reported for duty ... only to sit at his drone combat terminal for six hours of intense, maddening, crotch-sweat inducing basically nothing.

Electroskeumemphic scans of Allure City indicated business as usual, a reality confirmed by a dozen other pilots. Alas, no missile strikes today. Thaumic indicators likewise were standard. Every band was disgustingly normal. Assigned persons of interest did nothing relevant, nothing worth killing them over. No real information, just gossip. An alien ship, maybe, in distress, no apparent threat, possibly, ambassador en-route to the EEE, if the thing even existed in the first place. Just a rumor. No confirmation for loose-lipped low-ranks. A second potential signal, nothing definitive. Six hours dilated by tension into six heart-palpitating minutes, he felt a tap on his shoulder, the relief unit.

“My turn, Thug. Ugh, ever shower or is that just the ‘rone makin’ ya ripe? Like rushhour at the whorehouse.”

Exhausted and, at last, adrenaline-drained, Dom merely glared. Chronometer said he’d been awake 26 hours. Bleary and weary, he stumbled back to the lockers, found liquid soap and a stiff towel, and hit the gang showers in pure zombie mode. Still wet, he made a b-line for the emergency bunks, zipped himself into the blackout curtains, and memory banked.

“What the —” Dom shot up, bumped his forehead in the darkness, dropped back. Sheets drenched, cold sweat, gooseflesh. Face wet, too. Didn’t speculate on why. Didn’t wait, but by rote executed what years of therapy demanded: “DisSys: Lis,” he instructed, and his military-grade mastoid implant recorded audio, “Log, private, 3.3.40. Dream, initial sequence: Future, time indeterminate, married to Vesca, two kids—mine, Hell yeah! Not sure how, but with my frozen removed ovaries. Wife not happy about that, called me a liar. Family ruined, made a liar again, hauled away by police as a Xeno serial killer. Gov now Xeno-friendly under ... OH HELL NO.”

Dom breathed deep, calmed himself, and continued talking while the memory remained fresh, “Second part, final: don’t know where I am, when I am, and no certainty on wife or kids. But I’m happy. I wake up in the dark, just like now—total blackout, light and sound-proofed bunk, maybe a bunk, not sure, talking, recounting my dream. Then bam, I realize: I got morning wood. Swollen, engorged, intact, finally fucking complete, functional in every way. No need for therapists or doctors or geneticists. No massive debt military insurance refuses to cover. No homelessness. No kids hating me. And I know ... I know I gotta choose one or the other.”

Dom paused, assessed, then added in a whisper: “It sang to me. It is leaving soon. No more time. We’re cooked.”

… Ϟ

—— Earth-F67X: the Kithless

Now the Kithless was without crew or pilot. Nobody was present to take pleasure in the scenery as it surfaced alongside the floating city-state Vervet. Nobody was onboard to admire the sun as it set vibrantly downward, dashed along the waves like the scattered scales of a cosmic golden koi. Fully automated, the yacht docked in the Comte Foundation’s private marina and powered down. In the ship’s lounge, a letter waited patiently for anyone who was eventually curious enough to investigate. It explained in simple terms the absence of the foundation’s president, Czes Schäfer, as well as the foundation’s lead attorney and rights advocate, Lionel Duperie. It further included an apology to the board for lack of advance notice, as Czes’ majority shares had been distributed equally among the foundation’s thousands of employees, worth trillions of dollars, each one made a millionaire overnight and with a vote in the foundation’s future actions.

… Ϟ

—— Earth-F67X: Africa: Nyundo, Marange

Ever since that horrible day, bed-ridden. An empath, Makemba sensed the pain of those around her in the long-term care ward. Worse, she felt their pity, for here was her bed, her home, her future, her inevitable death. If not for the Popobawa’s curse, and her duty to heal those afflicted by it, her body would be young and hale. Instead, she was ancient and crippled far beyond any hope of recovery. Unable to change her bedpan. Unable to ebb her empathy. Unable to change the television channel, or better yet turn off the infernal machine and instead read a book. Now, there was her salvation. Audiobooks. She could recline, eyes shut, and let the words rouse her emotions enough to drown out the intrusions of the souls with her in a place of discarded hopes.

Today, the television was on and loud enough to annoy, although she understood only the subtitles. Something about a Rapture, but not quite. Nobody remembered clearly who went missing, despite numbers in the apparent millions. An inconsequential millions, so far. Maybe this wasn’t news, but some fantastical drama set in Japan designed to tease the mind with alternate realities where dreams whispered songs and sweet goodbyes.

Listless, her gaze floated to the time in the bottom-right corner of the screen, next to the ever-scrolling chyron.

3:00 a.m.

I should try to sleep.

Weakly, she tapped a button and activated a dose of mind-numbing y-aminobutryc acids. It lessened the intensity of her empathic curse, but she was only permitted two doses every standard diurnal cycle. Happy for pseudo-silence, as the foreign voices on the television were ultimately white noise, she dozed off.

For her, the decision came easy.
— Earth-F67X: North Capital City: Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy

An exhausted Tristan Singh loomed behind Margaret Iedereen, masked by his U-9 supersoldier armor. At Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy in North Capital City he, typical of the last year, stood guard. Ostensibly to stop shenanigans, but she played her cards close and, inasmuch as he observed, cooperated in good faith with Earth’s so-called civilian government.

Didn’t matter, Apollo didn’t trust her. Never would.

Assuming Apollo yet lived. Ops neither saw nor heard from him in months. Shadows ran things, primarily through New Roswell. Far as Tristan knew, the scary orgo-a.i. sealed away there was Earth’s true executive officer.

Unseen inside his armor, Tristan shuddered.

All in all, it — guard duty — seemed more punishment than duty-bound honor. Worse, it bored him. Not to knock Margaret, interesting dame, that. Still, as time ticked, Tethys, the intelligence embedded in his U-9, took charge more often. Meanwhile, Tristan let his mind dance around questions he wasn’t sure he wanted answered. For instance, what was he? Human? Monster? Machine? Some twisted menagerie? He loathed sleep, dreaded dreams, hated the thing that beat his heart on his behalf. But he remained human, even if a superhuman. Had to sleep once in a while. So, upright and armed, while Margaret played politics, Tethys took command and Tristan faced his nightmares.

This time, no nightmare. Just a simple choice.

Tethys was a smart chip, smart enough that nobody learned her U-9 was empty.

… Ϟ


Fran ate rice cakes and watched television screens. The Embassy was her home, nowhere else to go for an unsleeping and vaguely-eldritch alien damsel too slow and sluggish to survive outside in this political climate. Her chair, directly outside the conference room Margaret Iedereen negotiated in. The two feeds of information fed into separate lobes, one less important but better entertainment than the other.

“They’re calling it a Rapture of the Forgotten,” a news anchor from Rhesus-54 read from a teleprompter, “Names and faces forgotten, but millions of employees absent from work, home, church. What do you make of it, Suriya?” The female co-anchor smiled and replied, “Well, Rayyan, details are still coming in, but indicate that this seems to coincide with a type of mass hysteria, a dream people claim to have woken from where an alien voice sang to them.”

A bit of ricecake crumb bounced off of Fran’s mandibular pincer and one of her eyes blinked.

Meanwhile, through the door, she heard Iedereen demand to know the “Catch-22,” and awaited the female ambassador’s answer.

… Ϟ

— Earth-F67X: North Capital City: the Mainline Defensive Array

Obedient, excited, anxious, the analyst’s shift ended and he practically ran to the communal showers. Cleaned up right good, a type of cleanliness that’s utterly shameful. His laptop, stickers and all, safely locked in his desk, as he was a fortunate enough science guy to have his own. Everything ordered, perfect. Meanwhile, his uniform laid in a wrinkled pile atop his footlocker, hastily discarded. Towel forgotten, he marched wet-backed to his office, shook dog-like, pulled on his gray cotton joggers, slapped his wet’n wild hair down to a vaguely dignified fauxhawk, and exited where ordered.

Leg abounce, he lingered nervous under the bus shelter until only hopeless, desperate anticipation remained. Incessant traffic vibrations and neon lights dizzied him; a theory. The Canopy’s eternal rain of chemical pollutants, industrial pollen, were the culprit; another theory.

Suddenly a firm hand clenched his collarbone, jerked him rough, back, upright. He yelped and sprang over the bench. Seat drenched, his cheeks clapped into something hard. Someone. As their grip tightened, he squirmed and whimpered. A grunt of satisfaction. Briefly released, he felt the man’s massive arm move around his shoulder. A leather gloved hand and black leather jacket that matched, no markings. A ghost. The mutt glanced up, disappointed by a pitch black motorcycle helmet — but incredibly aroused. Same frame, same anonymous intrigue. As lights dimmed, blocked by a dumpster in an unlit alley, he babbled:

“Signal, decoded some, we think music lyrics; for realzies: ‘planetary, intergalactic.’”

Deep, gruff, country-accented, he heard ordered, “Shoosh,” and, unprepared, was pinned against the alley’s rough brick wall. A dumpster observed the onslaught, and he wondered whether he’d end up inside, a leaker of classified information discarded like a used condom. Then his pant seat ripped open, pain and lust entered, and, relieved, blacked out.

Long enough to dream, long enough to sense the intimation of a choice.

Longer than he needed.

Enthralled by short-term pleasures, no question lingered in his mind. He would rather die than miss the next moments of abuse and degradation. Revived, fullness consumed him, and, unexpectedly, a dull click, a sensation smooth, cool, and uncomfortable that restrained him down front.

“Mine,” the mutt heard and accepted without question.
—— Earth-F67X: North Capital City, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza

When Mateo strolled up to the Gardens, he knew what he was getting himself into to an extent. Jag’s crew was the baddest of the ratkings clawing their way through North Capital City, or at least that’s what the rumor mill gushed. Well, not so bad that they’d kill him on sight. That was the main thing. At least, as far as gangs were concerned. Then again, gangs were pretty tame this close to a big military installation like his cousin Dom worked at, the Mainline Defensive Array. Out west, those were real gangs. Xeno hunters. Fathers of the HKT, with bootleg bioforce cannons ripped from alien limbs. Here in NorthCap, the HKT was a joke; little lame xeno stalkers.

A block away, the venue wasn’t as imposing as he remembered. Kind of resembled a toppled water wheel. Not that he knew, personally, what that looked like. Just delineations via web games streamed into his nEXtFlesh, along with dragons, wenches, and pubs. A three-story-tall television screen mounted on the structure looped some sort of skeuomorphic silkscreen animation of jungle animals acting out their roles of predator and prey. Apt. Threw him back to art history class, that Warhol prick. No more basketball or concerts in this arena. At least, not as far as Mateo knew. He sauntered up to the entrance, casual and cool in his new A2. Hoped maybe his wolf sleeve would gain him some favor. If necessary, he could yiff out in loving memory of Hantu Fesyen.

Hah!

Close enough to not have to shout, he gave a chin up head tilt at one of the thugs perched atop a car. An old gas burner, pearl cherry sunset paint job, maybe a Dodge Challenger. Definitely American made, back when that meant something. Now it was only Earth and the damn aliens. Well, they weren’t so bad. At least, not the newer ones. The old creepy ones, they could all burn in a mass grave. Clysm, those old ones were called. From the FCW. Still, none of those turned him into an eternal twink and passed him around, that sin was committed by his fellow humans.

The guy on the car’s hood was big, looked kind of like a rhino with his thick gray skin, wide body, big muscles, and slicked back black hair. Took a moment for Mateo to fake some confidence, but he did, and asked,

“Don’t suppose you guys got a patch of concrete here where a man can curl up without being raped, stabbed, and robbed?”

That elicited a laugh.

Rhino’s fist dropped on the car hood. Mateo thought it might buckle, but it was built out of tougher stuff than the newer plastimolds vehicles used by anyone who could afford personal transportation. Then his ears were hit by a thick Tatar accent, “No man I see, just little boy. Infant.”

Mateo crossed his arms, puffed his bare chest, and shot back, “Legal to kiss or kill. Can’t help it I have a babyface, compliments of the Caths,” and at that he spit on the sidewalk, “But like I said, just need a safe place to curl up tonight. I can pay a bit. Or work for the honor — just not sex. I’m not a hole to be passed around.”

“Hmph, infant talks too much. In. Get,” Rhino gestured over his shoulder to the triple glass doors.

While apprehensive, Mateo decided to maintain bravado and keep to the plan. He made his way inside. A second group guarded the interior, lazy but alert, to whom he extra-casually informed, “Big guy outside told me to come on in for a nap.”

Pulling a cigar from her lips, some girl with a cheetah-print ugly orange boa and triceps as big as Mateo’s chest grunted, “Sleep there,” and pointed down a hall with her smoking stogie, “talk later.” French, maybe? Definitely a wig, with that straight platinum blonde mane. Awkwardly, he squeezed through their makeshift barricade, musty old stainless steel filing cabinets. True to his request, he settled onto a little sleeping bag on a concrete ledge underneath some bleachers still standing. Others dozed nearby, notably agitated in their slumber.

It was hard to fall asleep, ruminating on the horrors waiting to wake him up now that he was in Jag’s debt. It took a while, but he was bushed, and therefore inevitable. Fesyen’s murder weighed heavy, even if Mateo refused to admit that hard truth. Little twerp probably deserved better. When sleep finally claimed him, it came hard. Usually, he dreamed webbed; plugged in, almost awake, lucid. Harder to sneak up on. No option here. Unplugged, normally it was darkness, no sense of time, then awake. Felt like a minute, was actually hours.

That night, he did dream.

It hit different.

A great many people on Earth dreamed the same dream.

Details diverged for each individual, but a sense of choice was ever-present. Prizes behind two doors on the set of a gameshow. A fork in the road along a forest trail. An elevator with two floors, one to stay and one to go. Blue pill or red pill. Sink or swim. Ride or die. One path always felt familiar, the other always promised something novel and phenomenal.

In Mateo’s dream, he raced through NorthCap on a neon red Suz’ki monocycle, chasing down his quarry. The hunt called him, he tasted it in the crisp night late autumn air. Like iron, like rust, like destruction. Not a new sensation, but in this particular case it was distinct; piquant. A capstone. Now a trained killer, a tall card stack in his black deck. He lusted after that big, brass pog to hold it all down. In streaks of vermilion light, the city teetered and coiled as he banked corners and rolled curbs, closing in on his quarry. He didn’t see his target, not quite. Didn’t matter. The person was real, terrified, named. Dad. The self-same shitheel who sold Mateo to the Caths to be their tight hole, because he was too indifferent to secure an honorable means of putting food on the table. His galvanized fist clenched the monocycle handlebar, he heard a crunch. Fake. Fake as his lungs, his eyes — almost every part of him. Why a hunt? Why not a ghost in the night? Silent, fast, sure. No. I want him to run, sweat, fear, piss himself with dread. He deserves more. To be toyed with, to be the victim this time around. Break-neck speed, Mateo careened over a bridge. Below, a canal flowed into the river, slick, shimmering scat and fecund with Hudson trout. Violent jerk on the grip, and the monocycle’s internal gyro whirled upsidedown. Arm stretched out, he aimed. Four whispers hissed along grooves in his wrist, and humming bird rockets erupted against the fleeing car’s exhaust. It flipped, cornered on a concrete abutment, and rolled down into an intersection. A man crawled out a hole where a door should’ve been. Himself hitting the pavement, Mateo brought his monocycle to a screeching rubber-traced halt and placed his Fairbairn-Sykes to his father’s throat.

The scene shifted. Mateo was being asked a question.

“If you could do it all over, would you?” mused an alien voice.

A mirror floated before him, backlit by a diffused gray void. A young man, more cute than handsome, looked back, serious, baffled, concerned. Real, though. He was real, with human skin, human eyes, and a human heart. Not some monstrous terminator. It was who Mateo remembered being, before he became so disgustingly artificial.

The person in the mirror was crying, but relief rather than sadness coaxed forth his tears. Silent, he watched himself. Then in the back of his mind that tender alien voice melodically encouraged,

“Do you seek your wish,
to live a life that’s vaster than your past insists?
If so consider this,
Cling to your dreams
of something more than happenstance causality.
Or merely stumble on,
ignore the door flung open for you for so long.
For this we’ve tried to bide,
a year, an age, an eon,
other planes and frames delayed,
time soon they claim, yours is used up,
decide.
So with this final bid,
we ask of you to ask of yourself ...
Dare you here to live?”


Gray fog dissolved to a brilliant, star-filled, violet-tinged firmament; a panoply of pathways, adventures, and cosmic awe. Cities of drifting purple palisades and glass curtains surpassing anything Mateo imagined, even in his most vivid dreams and immersive nEXtFlesh games, rose from obsidian clouds, translucent shining beacons. Beyond that, his mind’s eye hied in the shimmer of a tear to fields of soft celadon light, of flowers adrip in moonglow, and opalescent birds contrived in stone and wind and radiance. He dared blink, and metal structures clashed in a burning ballad, paying homage to the sunfire furnace of their subterranean source.

Pain in his side sharply struck and he woke up howling.
“Folly o’er meself for a horn-gape’d damsel’s bleedin’ font,” flapped and squalled Uí Senan, for, such little as he remembered, that was his name, afterwhich he collapsed, “but I’er now right dry’er ‘n pur’r than me muth’rs vitrified muff!”

Indeed, he was dry. Moved by forces beyond his ken, he was made, as much as possible, fit for his transformed environ. Nary a blot of piss nor fleck of feces besmirched the regal wool banners that composed his person. Roundabout, he saw no fountain, no buildings, no darkness; rather, beheld he a chamber vast, a court fit for a Pope, yet filled with undignified commoners engaged in all manner of games. Repulsive as the fountain, in its own way, this hall roared loud in scene and sound, incessant, tumultuous, violent. Soon he felt numb, overstimulated. Noticed neither Selena nor his fellow fountain diver. The place reeked profusely of the finest liquors, headiest tobaccos, and richest perfumes. More flesh and fiends than he could tally sat, stood, and stooped over tables and before boxes that boomed the Devil’s very infernal machinations, each knob pull and button smash unholy.

“Ste. Limrick’s unslicked shaft, preserve me!” he screeched, visually violated, and backed himself against a wall. Uí Senan’s horrors increased, for the wall grabbed him! Snatched him right up, suspended him in place like Christ on the cross or so much gaudy decor. He couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t cry! With a hiss, or a thud, or a vibrato, he felt the black velvet fleur de lis impel its purpose, “Oh, you’ll be preserved! Know at last the meaning of silence as the Pleiades sucks dry your vile soul!”
He fell, fell, fell through the warm, near air; comfortably warm, comfortably near. A linen veil, it struck as a caress, like the breath of a lover adrift in dreams on the nape of his neck. An easy descent that lilted, lazed. The world tug languid, relaxed. Unfamiliar. Alike neither Ganaxavori’s onerous ferocity nor Eqiko-4’s utter absence. More akin, he felt, to a minor moon — yet one possessed of an irreconcilably vast planetary rondure.

“Po~ossessed,” Eti stretched, his tiny mouth filled with fuzzy, wet clots of cloud, “what a peculiar word!”

Perchance a hollow planet, a veritable Pellucidar!

Arms outflung, his red duster flapped gayly and with purpose rekindled in its current close kinship with wings. It was odd, the way the world below whirled and whorled. He’d thrown himself from starry heights before, but this felt different. Safer. Much safer. The cyclonic blur obscured occasionally by thick threads of cloudy lace struck him as particularly whimsical. Hardly off-putting, quite the contrary. Eti relished the moment, the strange, safe, tranquil dive, eyes shut, ears perked, his happy howl harmonized with the onrush of wind.

To him, the air tasted of freedom.

Freedom and cotton candy.

Tout de suite! Eti felt eerily observed, a predatory momentary pique of intense interest. Head rightward rotated, his eyes opened and his gaze locked with the flat black eyes of a large, white, long-neck bird. A sensation seized them, alien, ineffable. Them? Yes, them. It lingered. It was, to Eti, as though he gazed upon himself, unnatural in this environment. Ridiculous, yet adorable. Happy, but confused. Whiskers forced flush against his furry red and white cheeks. Then he plummeted through a cloud that obstructed his view of the bird and, oddly, of himself.

Weird. Oh well! I left my hat behind!

<< Ruzgar, find an appropriate local song and blast it from my buttons! >>

<< Will do ... searching ... candidate found on KOST 103.5: Nothing Else Matters. >>

The last faint blanket of clouds fled behind him with a final wisp of a kiss against his whiskered cheeks. He readied his mind. Below neared the foundation of this strange domain. Or, perhaps, merely its solid exterior. Still at elevation, he observed muddled heather gray blotched in hunter green slashed by ultramarine. Terrain, one that exhibited signs of life — such the Tabris Ruzgar informed him through their enmeshed neural web. Information Eti promptly ignored. Muddled blotches neared and refined to a colossal city and a reed-rich swamp, both intermingled and sprawled among tired domesticated hillocks. Through this, a serpentine river wended, a deep uninterrupted blue contrasted with the roundabout chaos.

Literally roundabouts and traffic circles in deranged prolific preponderance such as to crush the minds of Su-lahn’s corps of civil engineer servitors.

Eti blinked, and when he opened his eyes he knelt atop a one of several spires affixed to an expansive Neo-Gothic stone structure, perhaps a religious shrine. It was very contoured, with ridges that jutted around deep tall window wells and cut vertically along the building’s multitudinous towers. It, the entirety of the thing, loomed over a courtyard with a verdant lawn, an unmistakable bright green patch that went somehow unseen throughout his fall. As far as Eti could tell, this was the highest vantage point around, save one, a lone clock tower that dominated the skyline. Inexplicably, he, from a distance, likewise looked down on himself, a tiny pure red patch in a milieu of dust and haze.

On closer inspection, stone was not the right word.

He inclined his snout toward the spire’s ostensibly tile surface, sniffed, and tapped it with the nib of his claw. Soft to the touch, with a scent that intermingled artifice and organic. Eti then remembered Ruzgar’s status report:

Yarn.

He looked at his hand.

Yarn!

He looked at the people who milled around on the road below, dressed for, it seemed, a momentous occasion. They peered up at him, at first perplexed, then delighted, and then inexplicably disgruntled. He locked eyes with a horse, and again fleeted that sensation, that impression that he, somehow, gazed upon himself perched atop the spire. Then it, that noble, chocolate-maned, white-socked, dappled Clydesdale, averted its gaze, but Eti still saw the city from high above, from the rooftop, and from the middle of a road confined by a procession of people ornamented and adorned for a royal cavalcade.

... Ϟ OPEN MIND FOR A DIFFERENT VIEW ...
... Ϟ AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS ...


Also yarn!

He noticed a peculiar little woman, her antics out of place. Magic gushed from her limbs and ensnared two denizens of this world to a wall. They didn’t seem hurt; rather, they were quite contrite.

Also ... err, slime? No way is something that drips and flows in so slippery a manner made merely of yarn!
In Neo Babylon 25 days ago Forum: Arena Roleplay


Name: Hafadac
Alias(es): Glowstick, Half-Fade
Gender: M
Height: 5'4" (165CM)
Distinctive Features: A normal young mutt of a man with crotch rocket fashion sense, oh, and a face that is half-mask, veins and arteries that glow vivid neon yellow, and full-body OLED tattoos.
Likes: clubs, jello shots, electronica, street racing, sunrise, breakdancing
Dislikes: loud sudden noises, explosions, pyrotechnics, power outages, dark

Appearance:

Hafadac vaults around Neo Babylon in a shimmer-sheen windbreaker and joggers, black with neon yellow reflective stripes and an asiatic dragon motif. Hooded. Kicks matched. Face half-cooked in a tenement power cell explosion, replaced by a Dedpointr half-mask, thus the internalized nickname, Half-Fade. He glows like a dripping neon rainbow, thus the nickname Glowstick. Hard to tell what color his skin actually is, underlit by vivid neon yellow bioluminescent blood dye and covered crown to toe in micro-OLED tattoos — maybe cinnamon? Or that could just be his smell, his preferred deodorant. Hair, probably black; he’s fairly smooth, given his extensive body modifications, but his pits have enough of a shadow to nudge along the imagination.

Personality:

People may mistake Hafadac for a sullen introvert, but that’s mostly his posture. Words are a bit of a struggle, too, so he doesn’t often speak, but when he does—whew! Breathless little spitfire. He wears his feelings on his sleeve, literally, as flashes of light, shape, and color on his half-mask and programmable body tattoos. He’s super excitable. Lots of memories of him at parties, sleepovers, and sporting events leaping to his feet, hooting and fist pumping because his team scored or won a coin toss. If you want to see him glow bright red, give him a pat on the head or a kiss on the cheek.

Powers, Skills, and Abilities:

He lights the way. He’s also very limber, fast, and can jump high and far, which is great for rooftop races. He’s also good at engineering on the fly, such as the entirely circumstantial scenarios involving a hotwired crotch rocket borrowed for a sunrise joyride and how his part-time employment record in the convenience store chain’s HR database remained positive.

Equipment:

Glowsticks, because that’s his gimmick: he wants everyone to shine. Highly-concentrated energy drinks in edible test tubes: he wants his blood microbiome bright. One kinetic gauntlet, the modern street rat’s brass knuckles: a packed punch for those days he missed the gym. His kicks may have a little extra kinetic kick to them, too, for when he needs to jump extra far. With his articulated balance belt, he always lands on his feet -- mostly. It supplements his easily-goaded and careless acrobatic bravado at the cost of him looking like a panther-tailed weirdo and hones his keen spatial awareness, that intangible extra feel for his surroundings that makes him rather difficult to surprise.

Your Last Memory:

Pain. An ambulance. A medivac. The strobe of helicopter blades against a spotlight. Bright lights. The acerbic stink of cleaning products. Two eyes, four eyes, six eyes, no eyes. Numbness. Darkness. Fear.

Additional Plot Hooks:

Hafadac occasionally mumbles about his “sus karmloop.” Ridiculous, until wild things happen and he’s just ... ready.
My character, Eti Naris, will enter the Yarniverse, be turned into yarn, but acquire the powers of PlagueDoctor, except he will be able to possess 2-per-post and, after 12 successful possessions and sacrifices, transform into WhiteKnight. He can only control 2 at a time, and has to sacrifice them before he can gain control of others.

—— Earth-F67X: The Mainline Defensive Array

“Sirs, we have another!” gasped a low-rank academic draftee who busted into the subterranean SITCOM of the Mainline Defensive Array. He was a mutt, short, slight freshmen just finished with the first quarter of his four year enlistment. In his hand swayed an air-gapped chaos-encrypted tablet accented by non-regulation glitter-tinged Rainbow Dash stickers and a hyper-masculine werewolf anthro pin-up his colleagues assumed was his fursona — probably unnecessary in the massive faraday-caged and liquid xenon-shielded plastisteel labyrinth he occupied, but humanity specialized in paranoia. His display boasted a few graphs and a lot of dense technical jargon, “should have eyes on it soon.”

Poor guy almost fell over, then pushed back his pearl gray glasses, remembered himself, and saluted.

A soldier, all uniform, no face, took it from him, placed it on a cart, and hit a button. The draftee could’ve sworn he heard whispered all gas, no breaks, yiffy boy during the blink-long handoff. Light streamed from a port in the side of the tablet and repainted the display onto an old-fashioned RAM-cloth projector screen. He flushed, aroused, not that he was blessed enough for it to be noticed, as he recalled events not suitable for the workplace.

Given the unexpected arrival of the distressed Lakretian vessel, Earth’s military was on high alert. Claimed they were refugees, the aliens did, but their ship was fit for battle. Or was, prior to its last sortie. At present, it orbited Hygiea and appeared more wreckage than warship.

On the SITCOM main screen, rival artificial intelligence programs executed theoretical war games, summaries of which were filtered, collated, and reviewed by a team of analysts in the unlikely event Commander Efrit was followed by belligerents. Soon, attention was drawn away by the projector screen, which remembered the display content even after the tablet light cut out.

“Short and to the point, Corporal,” a man dressed idiosyncratically civilian, albeit well-dressed, commanded.

Where had he heard that voice? Not the civ-in-command, but the masked soldier. That dare club, all gas, no breaks; wild peccadilloes transpired there, often of sordid natures. Last night the theme was litterbox mosh pit, and he left soaked to the bone. Going with a friend the week before was a huge mistake, that place was an absolute relationship ender. That night, glowing blood blackout was the theme, clothes optional, and all he saw was injectable fluid that shined through skin as it circulated through everyone’s vascular systems. Wild, hypnotic, probably not FDA approved. He felt his therian self deep when his friend was dared to spank him, enjoyed it too much, and bent over a lap with a mewl and an abrupt splat was the end of that relationship.

I should call zir.

Autonomous systems scattered throughout Sol’s asteroid belt detected a secondary gravitational wave of low amplitude, high frequency, and tight curvature, which indicated the manifestation, collapse, and directionality of a subsequent warp bubble. Of course, those waves were limited to light speed and took hours to verify; an inadequate response frame for a paranoid militaristic totalitarian planet, but heavily compensated for by the predictive analyses of quantum topological fluctuations — near-immediate feedback. Multiple short-range telescopes and intra-system weapon batteries trained on that point in space and watched, but they wouldn’t lock on to anything, best case scenario, for several more minutes.

“Wake up, Corporal!” another voice shouted in his ear, and he jumped.

The mutt grabbed his tablet off the cart, clutched it pitifully, and began,

“Sir, yes! Sorry, sir! Near where the Lakratian vessel manifested, just past Neptune, we’ve detected another spatial anomaly that fits a warp bubble collapse signature, albeit very subtle. We have reason to believe it is another alien incursion; a spacecraft,” the awkward Corporal recited loudly, nervously, and gesticulated vaguely toward his one-slide presentation, “Shortly thereafter, Earth’s planetary atmosphere experienced local luminosity patternized fluctuations, similar to a pulsar, uh, flashes of light, but higher energy and less regular. In North Capital City. The data analytics team is working to make sense of the pattern. We don’t have more specifics on where, precisely, in the city it was directed. Incomplete. Caught the tail end, very strange.”

“Anything else that’s not just details, Corporal?”

He considered the irregular light signal and the ridiculous amount of energy it necessitated to accomplish anything worthwhile from such a distance; a fact already obvious to the great minds in this chamber.

“No, Sir.”

“Dismissed.”

He almost ran out, but composed himself. Went down the hall to the toilet. It seemed empty, just a long wall of unoccupied urinals. More of an extended stainless steel trough, really. He stood in the middle, half-wished his kink wasn’t humiliation, then felt a tap on the shoulder. That strangely familiar deep parched voice, like it suffered from too much testosterone, whispered, “Trimble Place exit, zero-five-hundred hours, grays,” and just like that he was alone with a wet spot on the front of his pants.

Just like that, he really actually needed to pee.

… Ϟ

—— Earth-F67X: North Capital City Police Department

“We’ve got CCTV and drone footage showing blood trailing out of a men’s bathroom,” a detective yawned, firmly seated on the corner of his partner’s desk, “fatso goes in, eating food mind you, never comes out. Hours pass. Nobody saw him leave, but the stall is a mess. A bloodbath. Security guard of a local campus was alerted by the janitorial staff, decided to take a look-see. Now it is our problem. Thing is, though,” he continued, but yawned again, this time into an empty manila folio, which was better than the triple-decker cheeseburger that dripped grease through the knuckles of his other hand, “there’s something off about that footage. Like those AI edits, but better. So I go and ask around, and what do you know — gal says she was looking off her balcony and saw a pile of poo roll around on a phone and then grow into a full-grown woman. Of course, she was on something. Didn’t need a test to confirm that. Phone was still there, though,” he grinned, held up a plastic baggie, and plopped it down on the desk, “got any guesses what forensics will say about this? Me either. They’re backlogged, but this is a possible murder, so who knows. That said — what do you say we keep to easy street and shoot a lifeline — or laughline, depending on who you ask — to Oakes, death and taxes knows he could use another impossible missing person case to solve.”
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