BOOK 2: Saturn's Rings
Part 1: The Looking Glass
Part 1: The Looking Glass
She walked through the night. Her eyes were dry. She was done with crying. She was so done with bemoaning her fate. She was done with weeping, shrieking out at the night at the unfairness of it all. She shook her head. Be bold. How ridiculous was it, to say something like that to someone? Be bold. Come on, you didn’t just walk out into the night and choose boldness, stop fearing. I mean, okay, you could cut the whining, even she could do that. But what did they all expect, that she would suddenly become a superhero, start whoopin’ patootie on the bad guys—wait, patootie, that wasn’t another way of saying ass. Or was it, you bet your sweet patootie? Come on Seven, patootie goes along with cutie. And Stacey was her cutie patootie, or he was supposed to be, he would have been, if she had not gone all Sybil on him.
She had looked at Stacey through a shattered mirror, loving most of the pieces of him, hating others, and when she touched him she cut herself on all the millions of jagged, sharp shards. But it was the glittering pieces of her that she hated, because there, along with the glimpses of him in the mirror, were the glimpses of her. She didn’t want to go all Cathy and Heathcliff, but she was Stacey. Stacey was she, and she was Stacey. They were one soul.
She remembered every touch of his fingertips, the warm air of his whispers upon her ear. She could feel his love all about her, the sear of his hot, dark eyes looking at her. That small, whimsical smile on his lips, as he grinned—for her. That twinkle in his dark eyes as his eyes shifted back and forth, really seeing her, staring into her, soul to soul. He was like a mystical creature, a unicorn, and he had seriously tipped his head toward her, the unicorn horn flashing unearthly light, horn approaching, and she was there, right now, surrounded by the magic she had always hoped for, the silly dreams of a little girl who wanted to be a princess, here she sat coiled, wound and bound, with magic, with love, she had him, right there and then, right here and now Stacey and Seven, S&S.
And she had head-butted him in the nose, pulping that beautiful feature of his beautiful face. She had obliterated the unicorn horn. She, a virgin, taking the head of the unicorn in her lap, only to kill it.
She had briefly considered lifting his shillelagh and destroying him, the unicorn, smashing the magical horn, pulping all of him, slamming him with the shillelagh, over and over and over again until he could never look at her with those dark eyes again. His black, gypsy eyes.
Her left arm tingled, and she knew what that meant, especially the spot on her shoulder, right on the meaty part, but she did not want to access those powers. Not yet. She just wasn’t ready for all that, I mean for admitting all that, you know, that it was real. That she was a creator, or in one sense—The Creator. How bizarre was that to even think? Just as bizarre, she guessed, as realizing that she was just a copy. Or, more accurately, the copy of a copy. Or just a long line of simulations, like the product in a factory, a whole bunch of her, little Seven dolls, speeding along a conveyor belt on an assembly line, with robots attaching the little plastic arms and legs, gluing on the little wig of hair, plunking in the blue eyes. Little Sevens. Little Seven troll dolls.
And what was at the end of the line? To her way of thinking, Lucy and Ethel were down there. The redhead and her plump friend, making a mess of things, eternally working away, scrambling, attempting to deal with a conveyor belt run out of control, too fast, a mechanical surge of little plastic dolls coming at them way too fast. The clumsy oafs were dropping half the dolls, hiding others, stuffing some of them into their mouths, into their bras, flinging some of the little copies out into the darkness.
She was one of those dolls. But she wasn’t sweet, she was certainly no chocolate treat. She was a little freak creature with expectations riding along on her back, just a whole bunch of hopes and dreams and totally unrealistic plans strapped to her back, a thousand tiny-but-overstuffed doll backpacks strapped onto a thousand little plastic dolls—be bold, Seven, kick some ass out there, Seven. Get tough, Seven. Take charge, Seven. Be a man, Seven—a mensch—be all that you can be, an army of one—be a tough, crusty old drill sergeant, and start whooping them little grunts into shape. Because it was all up to Seven, right?
She plunked down heavily on the curb. Where was all the traffic? Where were all the people? This clean little city was quiet, asleep for the night, and here she sat, out in the night with too, too many stars up above, here she sat, little Seven. All alone, one little plastic troll doll, and she was supposed to...what? Keep going? Follow through with some asinine plan to save all of humanity? Soldier on, Seven, soldier on. Never give up. Never surrender.
She had tried to return to High Vale. She wanted to fly to him, take him in her arms and apologize, desperately, just beat it into his head if need be, how sorry she was, to tell him that he was the last person in the world—in all worlds—that she ever wanted to hurt. But she couldn’t return to High Vale, her link from Six was gone, and with a little research it became glaringly obvious that there was no High Vale, it had been a gamer world, a long time ago, but was shut down, closed, eradicated, outlawed by religious people who felt the beautiful world was a dangerous lie, a filthy utopian dream of escapism and magic. High Vale had been gone more than thirty years before she was born. In her life, it had never existed, until she had received Six’s invitation to a vacation.
She had even researched Six, that guy she wrapped in blankets, Toby Winnur, the shivering, stuttering man huddled over the cup of black coffee, with his close-cropped hair, that same guy she had seen melted into a goo and sludge, a hand jutting out of the mess and parts—she had found him, that was easy enough, but he had disappeared years ago, before she was born, a college kid that had inexplicably vanished. Good old Six was from a different time. She had found his smiling photograph, in news reports—it was the same picture that Old Ben showed her in a window that time when he appeared in her Inner Sanctum. Six had been gone from the world—this world, her world—since the Year 2270. High Vale vanished in the Year 2310.
What is it with us? People? Why do we have this thing in us, the need to smash, to hurt, to kill, to murder—we need to hurt everyone, our enemies, but especially the ones we love, even our world, our society, and if possible, the whole universe. Why do we dream of destruction? Why do we need those dreams? Why are we full of such anger, such inexplicable hatred?
We hate those that are most like us. And we hate those that are different than us.
High Vale was the largest simulated world ever created, and the longest running, spanning fifty years, evolving and improving, with generations taking part in its living, and growing and society. But it had been destroyed, not long after the Great Book Burn of 2298, when the Jackians attempted to purify the world. Cleanse the world through destruction, and fire. High Vale was gone, as were all the books.
She loved opening books, releasing the worlds hiding within. Did the magic come out to her, or did she disappear within the magic? She loved moving her hands upon the paper, seeing the black upon white, the dots forming into letters, the letters merging together into words, the words breathing into sentences, paragraphs, and suddenly she was alive in the too-true, too-reall images of another mind, captivated and enchanted and absorbed. In those worlds of magic letters she was not alone. She merged with the other mind, the Creator, and flew in adventures of the mind, unbound in the spirit of other worlds.
Books were gone, as was the beauty of High Vale. Six was gone, and possibly Jack, and Stacey, vanished in a long-ago world that died soon after the books were burned. How could she ever get back to something that no longer existed? How could she get back to something that perished before she was illegally conceived in her mother?
But in Vestigial Surreality, in her Inner Sanctum, she had access to all the books ever written. She called them up and held them in her hands, any book she desired. And possibly, might she not access the recorded world of High Vale? Truly, isn’t that what she had been doing all along? It was only after she was accepted into the research program at Vestigial Surreality that she had held a book in her hands, that she had first held and then opened and then read a book, and she knew that a book in her Inner Sanctum was no more real than a cup of the coffee she conjured, all of these things were numbers, zeroes and ones, and she understood this—but Six? She had not conjured him. She had touched him, she had brought him coffee, she had wrapped him in a blanket, and finally, she had gathered up what was left of him, and placed that in his chamber.
Six was also in the program. Six, who vanished before Vestigial Surreality even existed as a research company. Because he was enlisted through the ancestor simulation. VS had enlisted Six through VS.
Seven was not certain if she wished to follow her thinking through, all those connotations, all these realities nestled inside realities, dolls within dolls.
She had first met Six outside of their chambers, in the break room. What was he? When she sat across from him, what was he? A simulation? A database of facts and figures, all comprised of coding and numbers?
Of course he was. Of course, he was. He was just like her, alive only through digital reality.
She rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes. Yes, yes, the dolls on the assembly line. Six was just like her, a recreation, a product of the assembly line. Lucy and Ethel had comically juggled Toby Winnur dolls just like they juggled Seven dolls. Stacey dolls. Jack dolls.
Was there any hope left? All reality was a desert, a sun-cracked wasteland. These, truly, were the shadowlands. A universe of dark, hateful images.
Could she find any hope? Certainly not inside of herself, she knew that to be true. She had no hope. She was only a plastic doll. All of them were plastic dolls.
This world she now sat in, upon this curb at this quiet street, beneath a sky with far too many stars, it was all simulated. And if she stood now and walked along this simulated street, she would come to the Vestigial Surreality building, with its big glowing red VS logo up in the sky—the building was simulated, as were its elevators, and the very chambers that transported her to her Inner Sanctum, all of it was the same thing, just like the thousands of plastic Seven dolls. A recreation, simulation, simulacra, a digital world. Her Inner Sanctum was just a simulation running inside this simulation, this city, the VS building. And from her Inner Sanctum, couldn’t she access the recorded information that was High Vale? High Vale, where Six cheated on his wife with a mermaid, and Stacey was threatened by a woman, no, a creature, and Jack rode his horse—weren’t they all still there, right now? Couldn’t she go there and ride again upon her horse, that so real being that nickered when the hugged his neck?
She held her head in her hands. She was so done with weeping. This was what she had, this was her life. Get over it. Get on with it, sheesh. Who said Sheesh, was that Jack or Stacey? Probably both of them said it. Jack was the father, and she had never told him that—she had come so close, so close, but could never bring herself to say the words.
But thinking about everything made her so tired. Could she ever move again?
She heard glass break, just up the street. Laughter. Wonderful, bring on the night life. And here they came, as if she summoned them, demons to torment her. She sighed and glanced to the side and saw them emerging from the shadows. The demons.
“Ooh, look what we got here?” one of the lead figures called. “A pretty baby, all alone.”
Seven propped her elbows on her knees. Look at this, a street gang. How predictable was this? I mean come on, every city needed gangs, right? Shouldn’t these street toughs be a part of the simulation, as well? Why not! Why not throw in a kindly old Irish policeman with white hair, he could come up the street twirling his baton, whistling an Irish tune, perhaps Danny Boy.
They formed a half-circle about her, looming up from the night, looking like shadow creatures.
“You’re the demons,” Seven said, wearily, sighing.
“Hey, little lady hear of us, we famous,” one sniggered.
“Wanna party, Pretty Baby?” the first guy said, a very skinny white guy with a shaved head, absurd earrings like padlocks stretching his earlobes. He waved a bottle, presumably booze of some kind, near her head. She smelled the gasoline smell of alcohol. That was bad stuff, whatever it was, the kind of stuff used to clean graffiti off walls. But the smell brought to mind sipping wine in High Vale. In real life, she had never smelled alcohol. She giggled, by real life she meant the life she had always known prior to VS. She meant this, sitting here in this simulated city, with simulated jerks surrounding her.
There was an Asian guy, no, two Asian guys, two black guys, three or four smaller guys, what, were they brown? It was difficult to discern the colors of race in the darkness. And of course, plenty of assorted white guys dressed like extras from The Road Warrior. Come on, couldn’t a simulation get something right, like this?
Really, diversity, among gangs? Only in the movies. This wasn’t an Asian gang, or a Mexican gang, or a black gang, or whiteys—none of the usual suspects. This was a movie gang. They accepted everybody. Nice of them, to be so inclusive. Must have a lot of empathy for the displaced. Bring us your huddled masses, a switchblade in every pot!
She teared up for a moment, emotion swelling in her breast, because these were all little dolls, the same as Seven. That Lucy and Ethel, look what they did to these poor dolls, scrambling their parts, all of them were mismatched and broken. And they didn’t know it, they thought they were real, out having a good time in the city night. Just sticking it to the man.
She felt no fear. She felt strangely moved. She actually smiled. She felt tears welling in her eyes.
“Have you, any of you, noticed that there is something not quite right in the world?” she asked them, utterly reasonably, as if they were all sitting at a coffee shop and discussing college philosophy.
“Hey, that’s like a...whatchya call it?” one of the smaller guys said.
“Coincidence, yeah, that’s a coincidence,” another contributed.
“We was just discussin’ that, Pretty Baby,” the apparent leader said, the skeletal guy with the big dark bottle. “How the world is kinda...whacked, right guys?”
The...guys...chuckled low, and dangerously, and crowded in closer about her, like a bunch of coyotes moving in on a Chihuahua. Strangely, she still didn’t register any fear. I mean, they couldn’t help it, right, this was their programming. They were doing what they were created to do, nothing more, nothing less. How could she fault them?
“A coincidence,” Seven agreed, thinking of Jack and Stacey in the park.
“You fit right in,” the leader said, “you gotta party with us. You fit right in, and I’m gonna fit right in. We all are.”
“The more the merrier, you gonna like it.” All of them were muttering stuff like this, glancing about them, checking to ascertain that no simulated Irish cops were approaching.
The skeletal guy plunked down onto the curb against her and stuck the bottle under her nose, almost smashing her in the mouth. It reeked, whatever was in the bottle. She kind of liked wine, in High Vale—she wasn’t crazy about it, but she did kind of like it—but this stuff, whoo. It smelled like industrial cleanser, or disinfectant. She pushed the bottle away with her right arm, easily muscling the leader a few inches away from her. He blinked at her for a few moments.
“You is one bad bitch, you know?” he said, almost appreciatively.
Seven giggled. Let’s play a little Iggy right now. Not that what the leader said was so funny, but she thought of Stacey. He’d come walking up right now, his shillelagh twirling between his fingers, and he’d say something really cool, challenging, and dominant, and the guys would move back, and weapons would start appearing.
What would Stacey say?
“This is gonna hurt,” Seven snickered. Had she actually said it, out loud? It was like she had a simulation running in her head.
“Ooh, yeah, Pretty Baby, it is, right guys?” the skeletal guy said, leaning close, breathing those fumes. She heard their eager grunts of assent, and she was not sure if she imagined it, but she thought she heard zippers going down. “But you gonna love it, I promise.”
“It’s gonna hurt, yeah, that’s the spirit, she knows!”
“What if I told you that the world had ended, I mean that everything is gone?” she queried, more as an experiment. She wondered how people would handle the truth, if they were just handed it. “That we are in a simulation right now? That none of this is real?”
Laughter. The skeletal guy began groping her, feeling up her breasts. Again, she gently, but forcefully nudged him away, hardly considering what he or she was doing.
“That’s another coincidence, Pretty Baby,” the skeletal guy said, grinning at her. “We was just talking about that, me and the guys, right guys?”
“Yeah, this is hell,” one of them said.
“And we’re like, you know, the demons,” someone else contributed.
“And you is like...the damned,” the skeletal leader leered.
“So like it’s our job, you know, to torment you and shit,” someone else said, just behind her.
She still felt no fear. She was trying out ideas on these simulations and they were responding according to their programming. They felt it was their purpose in life to bring her pain. Devastation. Hurt her. Rape her.
“What is wrong with people?” she said. “Don’t you have sisters, and mothers? Don’t you love someone, and can’t you imagine what she would feel, if she were here, right now, sitting here?”
They really found that hilarious.
“So it doesn’t bother you, that I should be terrified right now? That I’m a person? A girl?”
“No that’s what we love about you, so much, so much,” the leader said. “You is the girl we all love. And like you said, it’s gonna hurt, a lot.”
Seven sighed. Well, she might as well try it. Old Ben explained a little about it, but she had never tried anything. Thankfully, she was a good, intuitive learner. She picked up on technology, really fast.
She sighed and touched the tingling place on her left shoulder.
“Do any of you know about administrative control?” she asked, simply, not expecting raised hands or anything.
The skeletal leader grabbed her arm and squeezed. It hurt. It was real, everything here was real. She would feel everything. They would take turns, grunting, calling her the most foul things they could imagine in their foul minds. They wanted her fear, her terror, her pain. And when they were finished with her, they would discard her, like a used condom. She was a thing to them, nothing more.
“Tell me about your greatest dream,” Seven said, prying his fingers off her arm, casually.
“I like, you know,” the skeletal leader said, slowly, with a little trepidation, “wanted to dance. I could have been a great dancer, like, you know, the best. The very best.”
Everyone froze. The gang forgot about her, they were staring at their brave leader.
What the hell was he saying? What kind of new game was this?
“Show me,” Seven said, cocking her head, grinning.
The skeletal leader set aside his bottle, carefully, and stood, he roughly pushed away several of his crew.
“Okay, bitch, you watch now,” he said, sneering at her with glittering, metallic teeth.
And he began to dance on the dark street, doing some incredible Beyoncé moves, really working it. He did a lot of dirty dog, pumping his pelvis, and he twirled, really, actually quite gracefully, moving to music only he could hear.
The gang began to mutter. Several moved back, throwing glances at her. Of course, they were all cussing, swearing up a storm. Foul stuff. As sick as possible.
“Shut up you guys!” the skeletal leader snarled, and he did some dirty pelvic thrusts. The dirtiest of dawgs. “I’m good, right? Any of you ever seen moves like this?”
And he started moonwalking, doing quite a job of the antiquated dance move, really working it, like a professional dance teacher. He did the moonwalk in reverse, the normal way, and then he did it forward, and then sideways. Seven clapped her hands, delighted.
“You really are good!” she called. She meant it. She’d pay to see this guy dance like this. And here he was, giving it away, free, for love! Not for love of her, but for love of dance.
“I know, right? I am, I’m good!” he laughed, popping and locking, swirling into ballet moves, doing the Uma Thurman scissor hands, really cutting loose and pulling out all the stops, not embarrassed in the slightest. This guy could dance. With abandon.
“What did you do, Bitch!” someone snarled and came stomping at her.
Seven whisked her fingertips at the guy.
“Go on, show us your moves!”
And this guy started dancing wildly, energetically, grinning like an ape, and surprisingly, he was almost as good as the leader. They actually started working off each other, competing. You never saw white boys dance like this, and yet here they were, doing intricate hand gestures, moving their joints in ways you didn’t expect unless some CGI was working for them. They weren’t kidding. These guys were talented dancers. She looked at the rest of the gang.
“All of you!” Seven laughed. “Go on, show me!”
And they did, they danced with abandon, throwing their hymens out there, letting the world witness, they just didn’t care, they waved their hands in the air, they all worked the Beyoncé moves, laughing and hooting at each other, dancing up a storm.
“You guys really know how to party!” she called, laughing uncontrollably.
“We are! Right? We really are good!” they called back to her, boogying and strutting, truly getting down.
She didn’t feel guilty about this. Because they intended ill, severe sick. And she had merely turned that dark energy into something a little different, and they were enjoying it. She had absolutely nothing to do with how much they liked what they were doing. That was not simulated. Hey, she actually liked these guys, really, they were talented. They had some serious skills, and absolutely anyone could appreciate what they were doing.
She snapped her fingers. They stopped dancing.
“What about that party, guys?” she giggled, smiling for the world.
They turned and fled, uproariously. They had the same thought. Escape. And they did, a few of them actually screaming. And Seven found this hilarious as well, for she hadn’t done anything. She had merely released them from compulsory dance class, and they had simply vamoosed like school children at the period bell. They were gone, into the night. And Seven imagined they would never quite be the same, never again. Maybe they would even form some kind of dance troupe; I mean they were that good.
Seven felt wonderful, all depression gone. She laughed, strolling down the street. She couldn’t stop laughing, shaking her head. She thought of the skeletal guy—I’m good, right—and she shrieked laughter into her hands, tears flooding her eyes. She had shed so many tears over the past two weeks, but none of her tears was like this. She roared laughter. She could barely walk, it was that funny, the image of these tough, angry, vicious guys—they actually thought of themselves as demons, they saw this world as hell—and they could dance!
It was too much, she had to stop laughing like this. She probably sounded crazy, as crazy as all hell, but come on, there had to be some hope left in the world, right? If she could laugh like this. She had to stop thinking of that skeletal guy pumping his hips, with all get out, I mean he had been going to town, dancing as if his life depended on it, releasing his rage in really cool, slick moves, on a dark street.
She shook her head, spent. They were going to rape her. There was no Stacey to step between her and them. There was no Old Ben to step forward. It was only her. Out here. In this dark night. It was only her. There was no Irish cop. No help.
She couldn’t reason with the gang. She couldn’t appeal to their honor. She couldn’t even get them to identify with her as a person, as a real person. In some odd way they seemed to know that she was only a plastic doll. They were just a bunch of distorted Ken dolls and twisted GI Joe figures, and they wanted to play with her; they wanted to get some serious plastic rape accomplished this night. And all she could think to do was open a door for them. Urge them toward what they wanted to do when they were not so consumed with sickness.
She snorted back a laugh.
And then she tried some of their moves, she tried thrusting her hips like they did, and she felt ludicrous, but it set her off laughing again. She roared laughter into her muffling hands. Okay, okay, just calm down, don’t think of them dancing.
She needed to get back to VS. She had work to do. She had to figure out some of this stuff.
Seven now knew that her administrative control worked—she had inadvertently field-tested it. And it had gone unbelievably well. She had never, not once, felt any trace of fear. How could you fear a mess of plastic dolls, really?
But what would have happened if she had touched her shoulder and got—nothing?
Seven shook her head, her mirth finally under control, but she couldn’t stop smiling.
Those guys were criminals. Who knew what terrible things they had done. Even tonight, they had probably just come away from some violent crime. All of them were broken toys, faulty pieces off the conveyor belt, chucked by Lucy and Ethel up into the air. Nasty, faulty toys.
But even here, in this simulation, hadn’t each one of those creeps once been children? Hadn’t each one at a time not too long ago, been innocent babies? Probably adorable babies?
She called up a window. She hardly thought about it, doing it out here in the open the same we she did in her Inner Sanctum. She scrolled back through the dance number and again almost lost control, her body shaking with suppressed laughter, until she froze the window on the skeletal leader, the guy waving the bottle in her face, and she isolated him, and drew his image out of window.
Walter Dudley. In and out of the system, rape, assault and battery, burglary, drug charges. Two years of prison time, but lots and lots of crimes unreported or escaped. This guy was the very sick. She scrolled back and glimpsed him with an old woman, he was hugging her, and he must only be thirteen years of age in this frozen moment, and she watched as he kissed her and said: “I love you Granny, can’t I live with you, please?” And the old woman looked at him with such compassion, tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Pudgy, but they don’t give me a say. I’ll always love you, my Pudgy.” And she followed his line back, to when he was eight years old, holding a stuffed bunny, hugging it for all he was worth. And back, poor little Wally on his beat-up old tricycle, riding around in front of an apartment building. Bad characters hung about. It wasn’t difficult to imagine some of the things that were happening to this gorgeous little boy, because there was a certain glitter in his too-big eyes, a fear, but for the moment, he was riding his tricycle with exhilaration. Laughing. And back, baby Wally, in his diapers, in the arms of that old woman, who was not so old here, holding the bottle for baby Wally, and a young woman paced in the room, smoking, yelling, and baby Wally watched this young woman, pacing like a caged tigress. And then Wally was a lump, and this caged tigress was now a too-thin girl, innocent, and baby Wally was kicking against the walls of her swollen belly, and she was smiling, and a young guy, a skinny guy—a somewhat cleaner and healthier version of the grown-up gangbanger—was kneeling before them, the young mommy and the lump, and he was kissing the flesh of the young mommy’s belly, and crooning to lump Wally.
And Seven was crying, closing the window, her whole body shuddering. Oh Wally, Wally, how in the world did you end up where you ended up? Poor Wally.
She dashed at the tears with the back of her hand, and looked out at the night.
“Dance, Wally, dance,” she whispered, and then she turned, and fled, into the night, toward the tall building with the glowing red VS logo, toward her Inner Sanctum, and the worlds spreading beyond into infinity.
Probably, if she ever met Wally again, and he had not changed, she would have to crush him. Just squeeze him in her hand until he was nothing more than pulp and coffee grinds.
She hoped they never met again.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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